Utah’s own was Father of Television

Utah’s own was Father of Television


By Corrie Lynne Player

Feb. 8, 2018


Headlines “David Defeats Goliath!” and “Farm Boy Inventor Wins” blared from newspapers across the country on May 13, 1938. On that day, the examiner for the United States Patent Office, for the second time, awarded priority to Philo T. Farnsworth for inventing the scanning tube.

David Sarnoff, the owner of RCA (Radio Corporation of America), had tried to buy out, wait out, and finally steal the Farnsworth patents.  Not only did Philo establish priority, but he proved he had conceived the idea in February 1922 when he was 15 years old.

Sarnoff would have liked to ignore Philo and concentrate on the work of Vladimir Zworykin, his chief research scientist, but the patent court judgments and the denial of appeals forced him to recognize Farnsworth’s position as the first inventor of all electronic television and the real Father of Television.  How such a moment came about is a Twentieth Century Horatio Alger story more fascinating than any fiction.

Born in Beaver, Utah, Philo came into a family that didn’t have many of the things you and I take for granted. However, his rural background and lack of education didn’t limit his vision. He was only 12 when his electronic television idea came into his mind, while he plowed beet fields.  By the time he was old enough to vote, he had caught the attention of world class financiers and the most powerful thinkers of his day. He was a brilliant scientist who charmed kings and presidents and mesmerized the technical world.

By the time RCA had to “cross license” with Farnsworth Television, Philo’s company owned more than 75 crucial patents, including the Electric Oscillator System which breaks the picture into individual electrons for transmission, the system of Pulse Transmission which sends the electrons to their destination, the Image Analysis Tube which picks up the electrons and the Image Receiving Tube which reassembles the electrons.

Unfortunately, unlike the Father of the Telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, and the Father of the Light Bulb, Thomas Edison, Philo’s name slipped into obscurity after his death. Although David Sarnoff and RCA were forced to pay Philo for using his patents, they managed to push him so far out of the history books that people forgot about him after his death in 1971.  Television article writers for World Book, Britannica, and Encyclopedia Americana were all RCA employees or former employees.

But, largely because of the school children of Utah and the efforts of his family, most people today remember Philo T. Farnsworth. In the mid-Eighties, he was inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame, and the Post Office issued a stamp bearing his portrait as part of their commemorative series about “The Greatest Minds of the 20th Century.” The placement of his statue in Statuary Hall at the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C. on May 2, 1990 restored him to his rightful place in history. He stands beside Brigham Young, as one of the two men Utah is most proud of.

Unfortunately, members of Utah’s Senate seem to be ignorant of the treasure that is Philo T. Farnsworth. For some reason, political machinations are more important to them than acknowledging that Philo was not just a noteworthy citizen of our state but one of the greatest creative minds of the 20th Century. His work impacted the world and helped shape our culture. In addition to TV, he invented the incubator that has saved millions of premature infants. He also invented infrared night vision equipment, essential for law enforcement and the military.

I believe that members of the House of Representatives will be smarter than their colleagues in the Senate. They will vote “no” on bill SCR 1. Join me in educating those who hold the honor of a brilliant man in their hands.