Philo T. Farnsworth: The Father of Television
by Lori Fillmore
If you were asked to name the inventors of electricity and the telephone, could you identify Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell? What if you were asked to name the inventor of television? Would you know the answer?
Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell were heroes of Philo Taylor Farnsworth. In 1912, six-year old Philo used a telephone for the first time. He knew then he wanted to be an inventor, just like his heroes.
When Philo was eleven, his family moved to Rigby, Idaho to help on his uncle's farm. As they approached the farm, Philo noticed wires strung from the buildings. Philo knew what the wires meant; this place had electricity! Philo loved the electrical generator that provided light and running water to the farm. He was fascinated by the moving parts and frequently experimented with it. Often the experiments ended with blown fuses. The generator broke so often that Philo learned to fix it himself. The Farnsworths called Philo their "chief engineer" and he helped fix machines that broke down on the farm.
Philo looked for ways to make farm life easier. One of Philo's least favorite chores was cranking the handle on his mother's washing machine. He cranked the machine for hours until the clothes were clean. To save time, Philo found an old motor and hooked it to the handle of the machine. The motor kept the crank turning, which gave Philo freedom to read and invent.
Philo read about a contest asking inventors to improve the automobile. Philo created a magnetized key that would allow only the owner of the automobile to start his car. This idea kept automobiles safe from burglars. Philo won first prize. He was now an inventor.
One of the greatest inventions of his time was the radio. Philo loved listening to radio programs and dreamed of a time when programs would also have pictures. Philo knew he could make this idea work.
One day after plowing a potato field, Philo looked at the newly-plowed rows. Everything was in neat, straight lines. The lines gave him an idea. Maybe, pictures could be broken into lines. The lines could be transmitted one at a time so quickly that the viewer could see the whole picture at once. Though the idea seemed simple, making a working television would be hard work.
At his first attempt to demonstrate a working television, Philo blew out all of the tubes in the set. He was discouraged, but every time Philo encountered a problem, he would think of new ways to make his idea work.
With time and perseverance, the television was invented, changing the way people thought and lived. Though Philo thought some programs on television were ridiculous, he knew his invention was worth his efforts when he watched man walk on the moon.
Philo T. Farnsworth said, "The difficult we do at once, the impossible takes a little longer." Perhaps you will be inspired by Philo's story and work hard to make your impossible dreams become reality.
Ament, Phil. "Philo Taylor Farnsworth: Fascinating facts about Philo T. Farnsworth inventor of Television in 1927." www.ideafinder.com/history/inventors/farnsworth.htm
(accessed May 5, 2006).
McPherson, Stephanie Sammartino. TV's Forgotten Hero: The Story of Philo Farnsworth. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, Inc., 1996.
Schatzkin, Paul. The Boy Who Invented Television: A Story of Inspiration, Persistence, and Quiet Passion. Silver Springs, MD: TeamCom Books., 2002.
Schwartz, Evan I. The Last Lone Inventor: A Tale of Genius,Deceit, & the Birth of Television. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2002.
Photo: Courtesy of the Farnsworth family, www.philofarnsworth.com
Lori Fillmore has a degree in Elementary Education and has had teaching experience in multiple grades. She currently works as a mother and freelance writer. Her work has been or will appear in Fun for Kidz, Boys' Quest, and Hopscotch magazines. Lori currently lives in Rigby, Idaho with her husband and three children.