A TV First From Scotland

John Logie Baird

by Niamh Wood.

John Logie Baird was a Scottish engineer who produced the first mechanical television, which was able to transmit pictures in motion in 1926. He also demonstrated colour television in 1928. John Logie Baird was born on August 13th, 1888, in Helensburgh, Dumbarton, Scotland. He was the youngest of four children to parents Reverend John Baird and Jessie Morrison Inglis. Baird was educated at Larchfield Academy in Helensburgh. After completing his primary schooling, Baird enrolled at the Royal Technical College in Glasgow (now Strathclyde University) studying electrical engineering. However, his studies were soon disrupted due to the First World War. He signed up to serve but was rejected because of health issues.

Baird, now with the opportunity to pursue his interests, turned to invention. He moved to England and worked for a utility company and started a manufacturing company trying to make synthetic diamonds. Unfortunately, this did not work, so he decided to move to Trinidad and Tobago, where he operated a jam-making factory, which also failed.

In 1920, Baird returned to England, undeterred and ready to try a new idea. Baird completely applied himself to creating a television, a dream scientists had for decades. This was the start of a passion that was to drive him for the rest of his life. As his previous work had failed, he was constantly short of funds, so Baird had to use every day scrap items he had. His first ‘televisor’ involved the use of cardboard, a bicycle lamp, glue, string, and wax.

In 1925, Baird finally managed to transmit a televised image. Shortly after this success, he demonstrated his invention to the public at Selfridge’s department store on Oxford Street in London. In 1926, he demonstrated his creation to around 50 scientists from Britain’s Royal Institution in London. In 1927, Baird transmitted a long-distance telephone signal (consists of sounds and images) over more than 400 miles of telephone wire between London and Glasgow. In 1928 he created the Baird Television Development Company (BTDC). The company achieved the first television transmission across the Atlantic Ocean from London to New York that same year. Due to all his success, the BBC used Baird’s ground-breaking technology to broadcast its earliest television programming. Despite his invention being the first form of television, it did have some intrinsic limitations. As his televisor was mechanically based, the visual images were poor with fuzziness and flickering images. With other inventors already attempting to invent an electronic television Baird’s mechanical technology was quickly made obsolete. In 1935, the BBC committee deemed Baird’s product inferior, and they went on to use electronic television, dropping Baird in 1937.

In 1931, aged 43, Baird married Margaret Albu. Together the couple had a daughter, Diana, and a son, Malcolm. Baird continued his explorations for the rest of his life and made many contributions to the field of electronic television and claimed many firsts. As well as the invention of the first mechanical television and the first television transmission across the Atlantic Ocean he also demonstrated hybrid colour (1939), stereoscopic (3D) television (1928) and 'telechrome' (1940). He also did a demonstration on Infra-red television (which is the basis of many modern CCTV security systems) which caused a huge stir in the scientific and military world. Foreseeing the need to be able to record television programs, he also developed ‘phonovision’, a system of recording television onto discs. Although he was unable to successfully replay these recordings in 1928, they have recently been restored and the world's first video recordings can now be seen. In 1946, John Logie Baird suffered a stroke and passed away on the 14th of June, aged 57, in Bexhill-on-sea in Sussex, England.


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