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Historically Speaking

Historically Speaking: The Dawn of Television

By Tom Morrow

One of the biggest, if not ‘the’ biggest, technological development with the most economical and sociological impact of the last century is television. No single device or system has been more important to the progress of commerce and society than the communications ability of television.

Surprisingly enough, the first television system was developed and patented by a German university student in 1884. It was a primitive “electromechanical” TV system that employed a scanning disk, a spinning disk, with a series of holes spiraling toward the center.

During the next 30 years, a number of systems were developed by inventors in Japan, Russia, and England, but it was an American, Philo Farnsworth, who developed the first commercially feasible TV transmitter and receiver in 1927. It would be another 10 years before TV sets would be manufactured in the United States. In the meantime, Germany had developed the first working system in 1931. Portions of the 1936 Berlin Olympics were televised by the Germans to a very small audience only a few blocks from the stadium. Arguably, the BBC claims in 1936, it had the first commercially operated TV station available to the public as we know it today. However, there were very few sets to watch what little programming was available.

At the 1939 New York World’s Fair, the American TV system was demonstrated by RCA, but the approach of World War II delayed the mass production of television sets and the development of TV stations. The nation’s first TV station is claimed by WRGB in Schenectady, New York, which began on Jan. 13, 1928, but there were only a handful of receivers available to verify its signal.
In 1951, I saw my first TV, a giant RCA mahogany box with a 7-inch screen. Perry Como was on for 15 minutes; the news followed. This was via an Omaha station. That first newscast was the station’s camera rolled up to the AP teletype machine, allowing the viewer to read the news as it came rolling over the machine.

America’s big cities had commercially popular TV soon after the war ended, getting on the air in a big way by 1949. The hinterlands, where I grew up, didn’t get TV until the early 1950s. Our family got a TV in 1953. The nearest station was 130 miles away. Depending upon the weather, (Dad thought the clouds had a lot to do with reception), we had at least 15 TV stations that we could, (and I emphasize ‘could,’) get a viewable picture. It wouldn’t be until 1956 before we could get reliable TV.

The technological advancements we all seen in TV over the past half century is nothing less than phenomenal. What would Philo think of today’s high-definition flat screens? Whether it was watching astronauts on the moon, the rovers on Mars, or news events as they happen anywhere on earth, television has been an important constant in most of our lives since World War II.
Like it or not, the advancements of television have had tremendous impact on the history of mankind.

Historic Memory — In September 1950, the U.S. Marines and Army landed on the shores of Inchon, South Korea, re-taking Seoul and pushing the invading North Koreans back north. The Inchon landing was Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s last big victory before being forced to retire several months later.


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