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The Story Of Philo Farnsworth: The Kid Who Invented TV

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Ever wondered what life before TV must have been like? No movies, no Internet, not even a radio sight – what did kids do for fun? One boy who lived at a time like this was Philo Taylor Farnsworth - and he is credited with inventing TV.

Philo lived in Utah in 1906 in a log cabin. He loved mechanical things like trains that pulled into the local station every so often. He often drew pictures of the insides of motors and other machines. He was also amazed by his neighbor’s new crank telephone and phonograph (an old-school record player). The people who invented these machines became his heroes.

Philo FarnsworthPhilo Farnsworth

One day Philo’s family decided to move to Idaho. As they traveled to their new home Philo looked up and saw his first power lines in the sky. In fact, the family’s new home was completely wired for electricity, unlike the old log cabin. A generator ran lights, a water heater, hay stacker, grain elevator and other farm equipment.

Checking out the attic of the new house Philo found a stack of old Popular Science magazines. He read all about magnetism, electricity and radios. One of the magazines mentioned a word he’d never heard before: “television.” It didn’t exist yet but scientists were racing to invent a machine that was kind of like a radio but sent pictures instead of sounds.


Philo Farnsworth

As Philo filled his head with ideas the old generator at his house kept breaking down. He loved talking to the repairman who came to fix it. Eventually, he learned enough to fix the generator himself. After that he spent a lot of spare time tinkering with broken motors, reels of wire and old tools, creating mechanical inventions and machines to help make his regular chores – like laundry – easier!

At 13 Philo entered one of his inventions in a contest. It was a lock that could be used on one of the new Ford automobiles to make them harder to steal. He won the contest and went on to think more about television – the machine everyone wanted to be the first to invent.

It was while he was plowing one of the fields on his family’s farm that a huge idea came to him. Looking at the straight rows of dirt he was making in the ground he suddenly saw how he could invent a television – by breaking down images into parallel lines of light, capturing them and transmitting them as electrons, then reassembling them on a screen for people to view.

But Philo’s plans would have to wait – high school started and the teenager got caught up in studying, especially in science class. But when his dad died he had to drop out of school and take on extra work fixing radios. When he shared his idea for a television with his new girlfriend, she encouraged him to make it happen.

Philo grew a moustache and started calling himself Phil to seem more grown up. He traveled to California to discuss his idea with two businessmen, who gave him $6,000 and one year to build a first model. After a few failed attempts and various other investors Phil finally made a TV set that worked. He gathered a group in his San Francisco office, turned on the TV and broadcast the very first image – his girlfriend, who had since become his wife. Phil Farnsworth was 22 years old at the time and, thanks to him, we have TV.


Pem Farnsworth

Video: How TV Works

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