Philo Farnsworth

From Academic Kids

Philo Taylor Farnsworth (August 19 1906March 11 1971) was an American inventor credited with the invention of the cathode ray tube television.


Early Life

Farnsworth was born in Indian Springs, Utah on August 19, 1906. His family were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His father later moved the family to Rigby, Idaho, where he worked as a sharecropper. Young 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.

After a brief stint in the Navy, Farnsworth returned to Idaho to help support his mother. He later moved to the San Francisco Bay area with his bride, Elma G. "Pem" Farnsworth. A local philanthropist managing a community chest agreed to fund Farnsworth's early television experiments (see below).

In 1926, Farnsworth formed a partnetship with George Everson in Salt Lake City to develop Farnsworth's television ideas. He married Elma "Pem" Gardner and moved to Los Angeles to carry out research.

In 1927 Farnsworth's Image Dissector camera tube transmitted its first image, a simple straight line. By 1928 Farnsworth had developed the system sufficiently to hold a demonstration for the press. In 1929 the system was further improved by elimination of a motor generator; the television system now has no mechanical moving parts. In 1930 Vladimir Zworykin visited the laboratory and was impressed with the performance of the camera tube; the RCA project at the time still used a mechanical scanner. In 1931 David Sarnoff of RCA offered to buy Farnsworth's patents but is refused; in June of that year Farnsworth joined the Philco company and moved his laboratory to Philadelphia, along with his wife and two children. Philco denied Farnsworth time to travel to Utah to bury his young son Kenny, who died in March 1932; this death put a strain on Farnsworth's marriage and may have marked the beginning of his struggle with depression. Since RCA controlled key patents and manufacture of radio tubes, Philco was persuaded to sever its relationship with Farnsworth in 1934.

By 1936 Farnsworth's company was transmitting regular entertainment programs; that year he travelled to England and formed an alliance with John Logie Baird. Baird and Farnsworth competed with EMI for forming the standard television system for the U.K.. By 1939 Farnsworth 's company had licenced patents to RCA.

Farnsworth then entered a period of chronic alcohol abuse, depression and dependancies on drugs. By 1949 he had ceased working on television related projects.


Television Tube

Farnsworth developed the vacuum tube television display, an idea he conceived at age 14 and developed at age 21. During a patent lawsuit against RCA his high school teacher redrew a drawing Farnsworth had made on the blackboard when he was 14. Farnsworth won the suit and was paid royalties but never became wealthy. The cathode ray tube configuration developed from Farnsworth's work was used in all television sets and other kinds of displays until the late 20th century when a small portion of televisions were made with alternate technologies such as liquid crystal displays.

Farnsworth developed the Image Dissector, a practical all-electronic image scanning device that made it possible to dispense with the moving parts of mechanical television.


The Farnsworth-Hirsch Fusor, or simply fusor, is an apparatus designed by Farnsworth to create nuclear fusion. Unlike most controlled fusion systems, which slowly heat a magnetically confined plasma, the fusor injects high temperature ions directly into a reaction chamber, thereby avoiding a considerable amount of complexity.

When Farnsworth-Hirsch Fusor was first introduced to the fusion research world in the late 1960s, the Fusor was the first device that could clearly demonstrate it was producing any fusion reactions at all. Hopes of the time were high that it could be quickly developed into a practical power source. However, as with other fusion experiments, development into a power source has proven difficult. Nevertheless the fusor has since become a practical neutron source, and is produced commercially for this role.

Later Years

Missing image
The plaque on Green Street.

It is said that Farnsworth's genius was on the wane towards the end of his life due to alcoholism. A plaque honoring Farnsworth as The Genius of Green Street is located on the 202 Green Street location of his research laboratory in San Francisco.

A statue of Farnsworth represents Utah in the U.S. Capitol Building.

A movie dramatization of Farnsworth's life and work is currenty under production. The film is being written by West Wing director Aaron Sorkin.



"There's nothing on it worthwhile, and we're not going to watch it in this household, and I don't want it in your intellectual diet." — Philo T. Farnsworth to his son Kent, regarding television


David E. Fisher and Marshall J. Fisher, Tube, the Invention of Television Counterpoint, Washington D.C. USA, (1996) ISBN 1887178171

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