John Logie Baird gives first demonstration of television
It may have fallen some way short of today’s HD-ready plasma screens but it is much easier to refine an idea; being first is what counts, and John Logie Baird ’s electromechanical system was the world’s first television. It was his invention. It was the work of a maverick electrical engineer who let his mind run amok. It was the work of a pioneer. To a degree, he could be indirectly responsible for Eastenders and Big Brother – but don’t hold that against him; how was he to know?
Well, he knew a lot. Having earned his diploma at Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College (now Strathclyde University), Baird studied for his degree at Glasgow University. He would never graduate though; Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by a Bosnian Serb nationalist and the conflict of the First World War required his services elsewhere. Considered too poorly to be a soldier, Baird took a far more appropriate position as superintendent engineer at Clyde Valley Electrical Power Company.
It is not hard to imagine Baird in his element; his first television was said to be cobbled together from odds and sods – what inspiration he must have took from the electrical paraphernalia that would have littered the shop floor. Sure enough, after the war finished, Baird’s pursuit of a working television took him to the the South Coast of England, where his experiments carried on at pace. By 1924 he had made a primitive television, and demonstrated its flickering image to the Radio Times. Much work still needed to be done, but this was encouragement enough. A year later, Baird persisted and even dared to engage the public with a series of demonstrations of moving silhouettes. By October 2nd, 1925, Baird had cracked it – he had transmitted the first television picture. Primeval to today’s eye, Baird had nonetheless sired a new media. The flickering, low-res (30 lines per screen) image of a ventriloquist’s dummy was a ghostly debut for the television.
It was time for Baird to demonstrate in front of his peers. On January 26th, 1926, Baird paraded his invention before 50 scientists from the Royal Institute, and a journalist for The Times. His incremental progress allowed him to increase the scan rate of the image to 12.5 pictures a second – approximately half the speed of the human eye. Again, it was flickering and primal, yet it was deliciously avant garde, brimming with promise.
Baird would be buoyed by his success in broadcasting live, kinetic images. Two years later, July 3rd, 1928, he had delivered the first moving images in colour. Not stopping there, stereoscopic and infra-red television was next. Then an epochal moment for broadcasting; Baird’s transmission from London to Glasgow, delivered through 438 miles of telephone line proved that his invention could become national. Soon it was trans-Atlantic. Baird’s mechanical model, aside from being the first, hinted at the possibilities for television.
He was not alone in his vision. Across the Atlantic, the American company Marconi-EMI were developing a fully electronic television that would later supplant Baird’s electromechanical model. As the BBC broadcast its first television programme, the British play ‘The Man With The Flower In His Mouth’ the radio was in re-treat; a powerful new media’s age was about to began. Not bad for an electrical engineer from Helensburgh.
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