Father of the Electronic Idiot Box
This post was first published on 2nd September, 2014.
Mr. Fransworth is regarded as the Father of Television. I would rename him as Father of Electronic Television, as most of us, including me, have learned in our school days that Mr. John Logie Baird is the Father of Television. The truth is Mr. Baird’s television was based on electro-mechanical systems, whereas Mr. Fransworth’s television was electronic. Mr. Fransworth showed glimpses of his brilliance since childhood by describing and diagramming a television in 1921, when he was just 14 years old. After dropping out of college due to adverse financial conditions, at the age of 20, Mr. Fransworth resumed his scientific work.
In the year 1927, an image dissector camera invented by Mr. Fransworth transmitted its first image, which made the inventor extremely happy, as he had clearly envisioned that this would be a major stepping stone. Mrs. Fransworth, later recalled that her husband’s first comment after transmitting the first image using the dissector camera was “There you are – electronic television”. In his further work, Mr. Fransworth successfully solved certain stability issues the first version had and developed a system that was ready for demonstration. Following further experiments, in the year 1929, Mr. Fransworth succeeded in eliminating what was probably the only mechanical component left in his television a motor-generator, thereby completely justifying the name Electronic Television.
Mr. Fransworth secured a patent (US 1773980) for his invention titled Television system from the US Patent Office, in the year 1930. In 1931, Radio Corporation of America (RCA Corporation) approached Mr. Fransworth and expressed their willingness to purchase his patent with the stipulation that Mr. Fransworth will have to become an employee of RCA Corporation. Mr. Fransworth rejected this offer, and joined Philco Company.
Vladimir K Zworykin, a Russian-American inventor whose work was focused on television technology, had secured before 1931, two patents related to television technology. RCA Corporation, clearly upset with Mr. Fransworth’s decision to reject their offer and join another firm, decided to lead a battle against Mr. Fransworth, using Mr. Zworykin’s patent as the primary weapon. Following this decision, the RCA Corporation filed an interference suit claiming that Mr. Zworykin’s patents had priority over Mr. Fransworth’s patent. However, RCA Corporation could not provide any evidence to prove that Mr. Zworykin had produced a functioning transmitter tube before 1931. The US Patent Office, in 1934, delivered a decision awarding priority of the Image dissector invention to Mr. Fransworth. RCA further lost a subsequent appeal that they filed. Mr. Fransworth later went on to secure deals with tech-giants and his invention, along with that of many other inventors, cemented the base of the television systems we see now.
I wonder why, despite such brilliant contributions, Mr. Fransworth’s name is not in the limelight. What is most inspiring is that he is a ‘self-made inventor’ who was raised on a farm, and despite many sufferings, is arguably one of the greatest inventors. If this is the first time you are reading about Mr. Fransworth, I am so happy that I am the reason how you know this legend!