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Zworykin v. Farnsworth Part II: TV's Founding Fathers Finally Meet -- in the Lab

Zworykin v. Farnsworth Part II: TV's Founding Fathers Finally Meet -- in the Lab

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Published by Frank Lovece
Video magazine (September 1985) By Frank Lovece
Video magazine (September 1985) By Frank Lovece

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Published by: Frank Lovece on Jun 07, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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10/01/2013

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The
fofular-and
generally
accept-
ed-uersion
of the
history0fteleuision
giues
the
liott's
shore
o.f
the
credit
to
RCA's
scien-
tist
VtadirnirZruorykin.
Most
people
thirtk
the
TV
set
u)asdistinctll'
(I?1
obsession
qf
RCA
Chainnan
Dauid
Sorno.f.i,u'ho
had
the
prescience
to
think
that
the
picture
tube
would
obtuscatetahateuer
irnpactradiohad
on
Anterican
society.
1n
Va
Farn
mth
Part
II
But
the
storlt
is ctecictectll'more
contplex.
A
Utah.Both
u)erescientif:ic
boy-wonders;
tittte-knou)n'American
named
Philo
T.
Farnsntorth
e?)e?x
sketched
aplan.for
a teleui-
Fantsu,ortlt
ruos
actually
the
prinmry
deuel-
sion
system
on
a
blackboard
at
age
14.
oper
o.i
this
greotinuention.
Last
ntonth
ute
Zwo'rykin's
aduenturestook
hint.tront
Reuo-
chroniclecl
the
childltoocts
qf
Zruorykin
irt
lutionary
Russia
to
RCA's
entploy,
while
I
ByFrankLovece
'::f,f,
l:::::l
an
att-etectronic
teteuisiort
i
96
Vldeo
systent
 
TV's
founding
fathers
finalfy
meet-
in
the
lab
tion,
he sat
up, spit
some
tobacco
deadeye
into
a
gold
spitoon,
and said,
"It's
a damn
fool idea,
but
somebodyought to
put
some
money
into
it."
After
a
long meeting wrth
Farnsworth
in
which
the
impatient
in-
ventorgot
disgusted
with
all
the
legal fol-derol
and
started
to
leave,
the bank
officers
decided
the bank
could
not
risk
the
invest-
ment-but
they could,
withtheir
own mon-
ey.
The
backersgave
Farnsworth
a
year,
a
total monthly budget
of
$1000-salary
and
all-and
$13,000
for
contingencies.
It
was
finemoney
for
1926
butnothingcompared
to
the
millions
that
AT&T,
GE,
RCA,Westinghouse,
and
others
were
beginning
to
lay
out. Still:
money to
work
on
TV!
On
September
28, Farnsworth
and
the begin.
nings
of
his
affectionately
tagged
"Lab
Gang'itookover
a
bare
second-story loftat
202
Green
Streetin
San
Francisco.
Unpopulor
Mechqnics
Farnsworth's
confidence
had
to
have
been
both
bolstered and shaken
by
theFractured
Flickers
progress
of mechanical
TV-the
kindthat
used
not
electronic
partsbut mechanicallypowered
discs
with
holes
in
them.
(Imagine
a
movie
camera
as
opposed
to
a video camera.) Here.was
a
technology
a
lot
simpler in mostways
than
electronic television,
yetthe
mechani-
cal-TV
inventors
just
couldn'tconnectthe
dots.
The
crowdwasgetting
impatient
too-science
and
science-fiction
maga-
zines
were atthe start
of a
Golden Age,
promising
their
readers
an
electrified
world
of
tomorrow
by
next Thursdayor
so.
Followers
of
everythingfromScienffic
American
to
Amazing
S
tories
were readyin
1925 for
picturescreens next to
their
radiosets. They figured
it
wouldn't
be long
now.
Theywere
buoyed
by thefactthat
the
mechanical-TV
explorers
were far
from
mad
scientists.
Two
of
themostprominent
independents,
C.
FrancisJenkins
in
the
U.S.
andJohnLogie Baird in England,
had
every
official blessing
you
could
want.
So
did
AT&T,
which in
April
1927, undertheleadershipof
Dr.
Herbert E. Ives,
gave
a
wire-transmission demonstration betweenWashington,
D.C.
and
NewYorkCity;
the
star was
then-Secretary
of
Commerce
Herbert Hoover.
From Schenectady,
New
Yorkthe
General
Electric
labunder Dr.Ernst F.W.
Alexanderson
began
a
regular,
thrice-weeklytelecast
schedule
on
May
10,
1928;
it
was one of
severalexperimen-
tal
broadcast schemesnationwide
de-
signed
tofield-testTV
in
"the
realworld.
"
Programcontent
was
negligible
at
first,butonSeptember
11,
1928
the
Schenectadystation had
the distinction
of broadcasting
the
firstTV
drama,
a
talking-heads version
of
the
playThe
Queen'sMessenger.
The
curious
and
thecraftsmanlike
werebuyingand building
mechanical
TV
sets.
0enkins
called
hisa
"radiovisor.
")
There
was
even something
of
a
cultisli
boom.
But
by
1934in
the
U.S.
and1935 in
England(tosay nothing
of the
rest
of the
world),
this
"low
definition"era
fadedaway. Myriadfactorsaffected
its
rise
and
fall
and
theswitch
to
electronic
TV,
but the
most
likely
reason
is
a
familiar
one:
there
just
wasn'tanythinggood
to
watch.
'ThereYou
Are'
Farnsworthwouldn't have had
muchtimeto watch anyway.
He
had
a
deadline
tomeet,
and,though he
filed
for
his
first TV
patentsonJanuary
7,
1927,
just
a
few
months
after moving
to
the
Green
Street
lab,he
knewhe'd stillbecutting
it
close.
Hisyear
was almost up
when,on
Sep-
tember
7
,
1927
,
he
wired
an
image
from his
electronic
camera-the
"Image
Dissec-
[61"-16
a
receiver
in
another
room.Ever-son and
a few
engineers
wereon
handalong
with
the
Farnsworths.
Everson
laterwrote thatthe
imagewas
a
blacktriangle.
Ehna
Farnsworth remembersit
as
a
simplehorizontal line.
Farnsworth's
ownnotes
forthat
day
state:
"The
linewas
evident
this
time.
Lines
of
various widths
could
be
transmitted,
and anymovement
at
right
angles
to
the line
waseasily
recognized.
"
The
images
were
crude
but
definitelythere.
AsElma
Farnsworth
recails,
every-
body stood in
mute
shock
untilher
husband
broke
the
silenceand
said,"There
you
are-electronic
television!
"
TV
historian
Albert
Abramson
doubts
thatevery
component
was
indeed
elec-tronic bythis
time;
he
pointsto aJuly
1929
demonstrationwhich
still
puts
Farnsworth
ahead
of anybody
else-even
Zworykin-
increating
a
complete all-electronic
televi-sionsystem.
Yetthe
notation
at the
Na-
tional InventorsHall of
Fame
in
Washing-
ton,
D.
C.gives
Farnsworthcredit forpro-
ducing
"thefirst
all-electronic
TV
system
at
the
ageof.20"
(though
he
had
justturned
2I
by
September
7,
1927).
The
State of
California
likewise
accepted
the
Septem-
ber
7
date when
it
declared
the
Green
Street
laba
state
landmark
in
1981.(Theplaque,
however,erroneously reads thatFarnsworth"patented"
his system
on
that
date. Hedidn'treceivethe
patent,
his
first
armboy Farnsworth
didn't
know
any
better
than
to
be
a
visionary.
A
slender
kid
with
animmense forehead and
a
long
thin
nose,
he
went from
a
shorthitch in the Navy
to
a
shorthitch
atBrighamYoung
University,
always
looking
for
enough
moneytoput
together
a
lab.
In
Utah,
in
those days,
this
was
a
toughdream
toreahze.
He
worked
as
a
janitor,
a
street
sweeper, an
appliancerepairman.
Music must
have helped
him keep
going;he
took
up
piano
and
violin,
and
played
with
a
chamber
orchestra
and
a
danceband.
And
along
with
his
dream,
hedid
have
his
youth.
He was
only
19
when
he
fell in love
with
Elma
Gardner.As
l9-year-old
dream-
ers do,
he
fell
hard.
She
was alovely
girlfrom
Provo-his
"Pemmie"
he
called
her-and
she
wouldbecome
not only
his
wifebut
his lab
part-ner.
The woman
and
the
work were inter-twined.
When
Farnsworth'sfirst
big
break
arrived,
in
the formof
$6000
in
backing
from
professionalfundraisers
GeorgeEverson
and
Leslie
Gorrell,
he
said fine,
but
before
I
invent
television
I
want
to
marry
Pemmie. Everson had
to
becomehis legalguardian
inCalifornia since, at
age
20,
Farnsworth was
still
aminor
and
couldn't
sign contracts.
In
May
1926 he
and
Elrna
werewed,
and
almost immediately
set
uplabkeeping
in
a
first-floor
Hollywoodapartment.
But
notbefore Farnsworth
toldhisbride:
"Pem-mie, I
have
to tellyouthat
there
is
anotherwoman in
mylife,
and
her
name
is
Televi-
sion. As
I
see
it,
the only waywe
will
have
enough
time together
is
for
you
to
have
a
part
in
my
work."
Elma didn'tknow
howshe
could,
but
soon
her
husband had
her
spot-welding
and,more important,
draw-
ing
notebook sketchesandpatent
dia-
grams-which
were
good
to
have aroundwhenthe
L.A.
police
came
to
raid
themys-
terious
apartment one
day,
searching invain
for
a
Prohibition
still.
With
somegroundwork
laid,
Farns-worth
secured
a
patentattorney
and
Ever-
son
went
off
to
findmore investment
capi-
tal.
Try
to
imagine rasing money
for,
say,
3D-hologram moviestoday
and
you'llhave
an idea
what he
was up against. When
an
exhausted Everson finally
reachedthe
archconseryativeCrockerNational
Bank
in
San
Francisco,the
man he was
supposed
to
see
wasn't
even
in.
Instead
Everson
foundanother officer,
James
J.
"Daddy"
Fagan,
aboomtown
byproduct
of
the
Gold
Rushdays.
Pondering Everson'spresenta-
Vldeo
I
 
A
1939-uintage kinescofe
(left)
displays
a
test
pattern
while
a
cathode-ray
oscillograph
(rtqht)
shows the
signal's
waueshape.
of
over
300
foreign
and
U.
S., until
1930.
)
In
anycase,
Farnsworth
had
done what
he'd set out
to
do.And rudimentary
as
it
was,
it
seemedgoodenough
to
the
back-
ers-when
they
saw
it
demonstrated
in
earlyt2S-that
they
decided
to
sell
out
and
take
theirprofits.
C'est
Ie
77.
Farnsworthsuddenlyneeded
more
capital, and that
meant
he
needed
publicity.
On September
2
hestaged
a
well-received
publicdemon-
stration.By
September 3he was
famous.
Wire servicespicked
up
the
story
and
soon
Farnsworth's
namewas all
over the
coun-
try.
It
was
the
beginning
of
a
long
but
tragicallyimpermanent
stay
inthe
spot-lieht.
Yet
for
a
timevisitingthe
22-year-oldgenius
wasconsidered,
especially
by
the
movie
industry,
to
be
an
important
if
notdownrightchic excursion.
This
inventioncould,ah,
threaten
movies
after all.Mary
Pickford
andDouglas Fairbanks
were
among
themostfamous
visitors,but
loads
of
other
Hollywood and
communications
figuresarrived
as well.
In April
1930, one
of those
guests
was
VladimirZworykin.
ComponyMon
Zworykin'svisit wasn't
asocial
call.
Hewas
there at the
behest
of
David
Sarnoff,
thepowerfulchief ofRCA. Zworykin
had
come
a
longway evenbefore he
venturedout
to
California.
By
the time
of this
1930
expedition,Zworyl<rn
hadearned
aPh.D. from
the
University
of
Pittsburgh andhadbeen
a
naturalized
citizen
for
several
years.
Of
course
he
still
was
interested
in
television;in
theinterviews withAzar,
speaking
in
a
thick
Russian
accent,he says,"Westing-
housebegan
to
givein
sirice
I
was allthe
time
pushing
television,television,televi-sion.They
said
Zworykincan't talk
aboutanything
else!"
At
the
suggestion
of
Westinghouse
lab
director
S.M.
Kintner,
Zworykin
had
sought
an
audience
with
David Sarnoff, thesoon-to-be
presidentofRCA.
Sarnoff
and
Zworykinhad reportedly
met
earlier
in
1927 since
Westinghouse
and
RCA
shared
formalresearch
ties.This
new
meeting,
however,
has beenrecounted
over
and
over
as
themomentRCA committed
itself
to electronictelevision.Asthe
story
goes,
Sarnoffasked,
how
much
will
it
cost?
Zworyl<tn,pulling
a
number
out
of his
hat,
said
$100,000.
He
turned
outto
have been,by
RCA's estimate,
about
$49,900,000
off
Despite
Sarnoffs
delight
in
retelling
this
story,
his relationship
with
his
fellow
Rus-sian
emigre
was
formal.According
to
theReverendRoger
Albright,
a
Zworykin fam-
ily member whorecorded
a series
of
oralmemoirs
for
a
planned
biography,
"Sarnoff
treatedhimlike
a
hirednoodnik.
As far
as
I
know
theynever
spoke
Russian
together.
That would
have
connoted
a
kind
of
intima-
cy
they
didn't
have.
"
Zworykin
was
a
companyman, though,
and
on
relocatingto the Camden,
NewJer^-seyarea
whereRCA
had
its research
lab
at
98
Video
the
time,
he
entered
a
stepped-up
phase
of
his
career.(By
now he'dalso become the
father
ofhis only
children,
daughtersNina
and
Elaine.
But
he
andTatianaweren'tgetting
along and
would
soonbe
separatedand
eventuallydivorced. About this
time,according
to
a
relative,
Zworyl<tnalso
be-
ganan
intimate relationship
with
Dr.
Kath-erine
Polivitsky,
a
friend's
wife
whom
he
would
marry
some20
years
laterafter
herhusbandpassedaway.)
The
reason
for
Zworykin's
visit
to
the
Farnsworth
lab seems
a
little
shrouded to-
day.
CertainlyFarnsworth
continued
to
need
backing,
and
RCA,which
held
a
virtu-
al
monoply
on
radio
patents,
seemed
a
logi-
calpartnerfortelevision. Yet
Elma Farns-
worth
contends
thatZworykin
gave
the
impression
he
was
from
Westinghouse,
not
RCA.
"We
didn'tknow he
was
connected
with
RCA
at
all.
The word Phil
had
gotten
was
that
the backers wanted
to
sell
and
getout;they
said
they weren'tin
the
television
business.
Phil
was supposedto
do
everything
he
could
tothis end,
and
we
thought
we
couldlicenseWestinghouse.
"
Most other
sources
say
Zworykin's
RCAconnection
wasn't
hidden,
butin his
talks
with Azar,Zworykn
curiously notes
that
"Westinghousestarted
to
amend
its
pat-
ents,
and
sentme
there.
I
met
Farns-worth
and
liked him
very
much.
"
Perhaps
the
89-year-oldZworykin
may
have
meantto
say
"RCA"
and
not"Westinghouse,
"
but
until
Zworykin's
papersbecome
availa-
ble-mostof
them
are
locked,
un-catalogued
and
unfiled,in
an
RCA
vault-
there
may be
no way
to
know
for
sure.
In
any
case
Zworykin
spent
three
days
touringthelab,
seeing
everything
in detail.
He
was
widelyreported
to
havesaidofFarnsworth's
camera
tube,
"This
is
a
beau-
tiful
instrument.
I
wish
that
I
might
have
invented
it.
"Yetperhaps
he
was
just
beingpolite.For
all
its
advantages,
Farnsworth's
image
dissector
did
not
have
storage
capa-
bility
and
therefore
needed large amounts
oflight.
Years
laterZworykin
admitted
to
Azar
that"Farnsworthwas closer
to
this
thingyou're
using
now
than anybody,be-cause
he
used
the
cathode-ray
tube
for
transmission.
But,
"
he
added,
"Farns-
worth
didn't
have
the
mosaic,
he
didn't
have
storage.
Therefore,
fpicture]
defini-
tion
was
very
low....
But he
was
veryproud,
and
he stuck
to
his method.
"
After
three
days
that
included
dinner
at
theFarnsworth
home,
Zworykinleft
to report
to
Sarnoff.Whatever
Zworykin's reservations,
Da-vid Sarnoff
arrived
at
the
Farnsworth
lab
a
few
months
later
and offered
to
buy
thewhole
setup-inventions,
patents,
and
theservices
of Farnsworth
himself-for
a
re-ported
$200,000in Depression-eragreen-
backs.
Farnsworthturned
Sarnoff
down
cold.
This ls Wor
That
was
the
start
of
thefeud.RCA
had
never
been
turned downbefore;whenever
somemaverick had come
up
with
some
potentially
valuable
or
problematicpatent,RCA would simplybuy
it-and
themaver-ick
too,
if need
be. From
allreportsgetting
to RCA, thisFarnsworthkid
couldbe
trou-
ble. In fact,
bymid-1930Farnsworth
did
nothingless than transmit
the
first
elec-
tronic-TV
broadcast-i.e.,
using
radio
waves,
notwires.
Images
were
sent
overthe
air
to
a
receiver
set
up
at
San
Francis-co's
Merchants
Exchangebuilding about
a
mile
from
the GreenStreet
lab.
Not
able
tobuy out
Farnsworth,
and
not
willing to
take
a
license
from
him-the
in-
dignity!-Sarnoff
s
patentlawyers devised
a
plan
to
simply
take Farnsworth's
patent
from him.
The
scheme
wouldplayoff
Zworykin's
1923
patentapplication,whichbecause of variouschallenges
andamend-
ments
was
still
manyyears
from
reachingapproval.
If
successful,theplotwouldtake
continued
on
page
135

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