Philo Taylor Farnsworth (August 19, 1906 – March 11, 1971) was an American inventor and television pioneer. He made many contributions that were crucial to the early development of all-electronic television. He is perhaps best known for inventing the first fully functional all-electronic image pickup device (video camera tube), the "image dissector", as well as the first fully functional and complete all-electronic television system. He was also the first person to demonstrate such a system to the public. Farnsworth developed a television system complete with receiver and camera, which he produced commercially in the firm of the Farnsworth Television and Radio Corporation, from 1938 to 1951.
In later life, Farnsworth invented a small nuclear fusion device, the Farnsworth–Hirsch fusor, or simply "fusor", employing inertial electrostatic confinement (IEC). Although not a practical device for generating nuclear energy, the fusor serves as a viable source of neutrons. The design of this device has been the acknowledged inspiration for other fusion approaches including the Polywell reactor concept in terms of a general approach to fusion design. Farnsworth held 165 patents, mostly in radio and television.
Philo T. Farnsworth was born August 19, 1906, the eldest of five children of Lewis Edwin Farnsworth and Serena Amanda Bastian, a Mormon couple then living in a small log cabin built by Lewis's father in a place called Indian Creek near Beaver, Utah. Philo was excited to find his new home was wired for electricity, with a Delco generator providing power for lighting and farm machinery. He was a quick study in mechanical and electrical technology, repairing the troublesome generator, and upon finding a burned out electric motor among some items discarded by the previous tenants, proceeding to rewind the armature and convert his mother's hand-powered washing machine into an electric-powered one.
Philo developed an early interest in electronics after his first telephone conversation with an out-of-state relative and the discovery of a large cache of technology magazines in the attic of the family’s new home, and won a $25 first prize in a pulp-magazine contest for inventing a magnetized car lock.
Farnsworth excelled in chemistry and physics at Rigby High School. In 1924 he applied to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, where he was recruited after he earned the nation's second highest score on academy tests. Farnsworth was prepared to show his models and drawings to a patent attorney who was nationally recognized as an authority on electrophysics. Everson and Gorrell agreed that Farnsworth should apply for patents for his designs, a decision which proved crucial in later disputes with RCA.
Most television systems in use at the time used image scanning devices ("rasterizers") employing rotating "Nipkow disks" comprising lenses arranged in spiral patterns such that they swept across an image in a succession of short arcs while focusing the light they captured on photosensitive elements, thus producing a varying electrical signal corresponding to the variations in light intensity. Farnsworth recognized the limitations of the mechanical systems, and that an all-electronic scanning system could produce a superior image for transmission to a receiving device. On September 7, 1927, Farnsworth's image dissector camera tube transmitted its first image, a simple straight line, to a receiver in another room of his laboratory at 202 Green Street in San Francisco.
Many inventors had built electromechanical television systems before Farnsworth's seminal contribution, but Farnsworth designed and built the world's first working all-electronic television system, employing electronic scanning in both the pickup and display devices. He first demonstrated his system to the press on September 3, 1928, and to the public at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia on August 25, 1934.
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