John Logie Baird

John Logie Baird FRSE (/ˈlɡi bɛərd/;[1] 13 August 1888 – 14 June 1946) was a Scottish inventor, electrical engineer, and innovator who demonstrated the world's first live working television system on 26 January 1926.[2][3][4] He went on to invent the first publicly demonstrated colour television system and the first viable purely electronic colour television picture tube.[5][6]

John Logie Baird
Baird in 1917
Born(1888-08-13)13 August 1888
Helensburgh, Dunbartonshire, Scotland
Died14 June 1946(1946-06-14) (aged 57)
Bexhill, Sussex, England
Resting placeBaird family grave in Helensburgh Cemetery
EducationLarchfield Academy, Helensburgh
Alma mater
  • Inventor
  • Entrepreneur
  • Consulting technical adviser, Cable & Wireless Ltd (from 1941)
  • Director, John Logie Baird Ltd
  • Director, Capital and Provincial Cinemas Ltd
Known forThe world's first working television system, including the first colour television
Margaret Albu
(m. 1931)

In 1928 the Baird Television Development Company achieved the first transatlantic television transmission.[5] Baird's early technological successes and his role in the practical introduction of broadcast television for home entertainment have earned him a prominent place in television's history.

In 2006, Baird was named as one of the 10 greatest Scottish scientists in history, having been listed in the National Library of Scotland's 'Scottish Science Hall of Fame'.[7] In 2015 he was inducted into the Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame.[8] In 2017, IEEE unveiled a bronze street plaque at 22 Frith Street (Bar Italia), London, dedicated to Baird and the invention of television.[9] In 2021, the Royal Mint unveiled a John Logie Baird 50p coin commemorating the 75th anniversary of his death.[10]

Early years edit

Baird was born on 13 August 1888 in Helensburgh, Dunbartonshire, and was the youngest of four children of the Reverend John Baird, the Church of Scotland's minister for the local St Bride's Church, and Jessie Morrison Inglis, the orphaned niece of the wealthy Inglis family of shipbuilders from Glasgow.[11][12]

He was educated at Larchfield Academy (now part of Lomond School) in Helensburgh; the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College; and the University of Glasgow. While at college, Baird undertook a series of engineering apprentice jobs as part of his course. The conditions in industrial Glasgow at the time helped form his socialist convictions but also contributed to his ill health. He became an agnostic, though this did not strain his relationship with his father.[13] His degree course was interrupted by the First World War and he never returned to graduate.

At the beginning of 1915 he volunteered for service in the British Army but was classified as unfit for active duty. Unable to go to the front, he took a job with the Clyde Valley Electrical Power Company, which was engaged in munitions work.[14][page needed]

Television experiments edit

In early 1923, and in poor health, Baird moved to 21 Linton Crescent, Hastings, on the south coast of England. He later rented a workshop in the Queen's Arcade in the town. Baird built what was to become the world's first working television set using items that included an old hatbox and a pair of scissors, some darning needles, a few bicycle light lenses, a used tea chest, and sealing wax and glue that he purchased.[15] In February 1924, he demonstrated to the Radio Times that a semi-mechanical analogue television system was possible by transmitting moving silhouette images.[16] In July of the same year, he received a 1000-volt electric shock but survived with only a burnt hand but, as a result, his landlord, Mr Tree, asked him to vacate the premises.[17] Soon after arriving in London, looking for publicity, Baird visited the Daily Express newspaper to promote his invention. The news editor was terrified and he was quoted by one of his staff as saying: "For God's sake, go down to reception and get rid of a lunatic who's down there. He says he's got a machine for seeing by wireless! Watch him—he may have a razor on him."[18]

John Logie Baird with his television apparatus, circa 1925

In these attempts to develop a working television system, Baird experimented using the Nipkow disk. Paul Gottlieb Nipkow had invented this scanning system in 1884.[19] Television historian Albert Abramson calls Nipkow's patent "the master television patent".[20] Nipkow's work is important because Baird, followed by many others, chose to develop it into a broadcast medium.

Baird in 1926 with his televisor equipment and dummies "James" and "Stooky Bill"

In his laboratory on 2 October 1925, Baird successfully transmitted the first television picture with a greyscale image: the head of a ventriloquist's dummy nicknamed "Stooky Bill" in a 32-line vertically scanned image, at five pictures per second.[21] Baird went downstairs and fetched an office worker, 20-year-old William Edward Taynton, to see what a human face would look like, and Taynton became the first person to be televised in a full tonal range.[22]

In June 1924, Baird had bought from Cyril Frank Elwell a thallium sulphide (Thalofide) cell, developed by Theodore Case in the USA.[23] The Thalofide cell was part of the important new technology of 'talking pictures'. Baird's pioneering implementation of this cell allowed Baird to become the first person to produce a live, moving, greyscale television image from reflected light. Baird achieved this, where other inventors had failed, by applying two unique methods to the Case cell. He accomplished this by improving the signal conditioning from the cell, through temperature optimisation (cooling) and his own custom-designed video amplifier.[23]

First public demonstrations edit

Baird gave the first public demonstration of moving silhouette images by television at Selfridges department store in London in a three-week series of demonstrations beginning on 25 March 1925.[24]

The first known photograph of a moving image produced by Baird's "televisor", as reported in The Times, 28 January 1926 (The subject is Baird's business partner Oliver Hutchinson.)

On 26 January 1926, Baird gave the first public demonstration of true television images for members of the Royal Institution and a reporter from The Times in his laboratory at 22 Frith Street in the Soho district of London, where Bar Italia is now located.[5][25][26][27] Baird initially used a scan rate of 5 pictures per second, improving this to 12.5 pictures per second c.1927. It was the first demonstration of a television system that could scan and display live moving images with tonal graduation.[3]

Blue plaque marking Baird's first demonstration of television at 22 Frith Street, Westminster, W1, London

He demonstrated the world's first colour transmission on 3 July 1928, using scanning discs at the transmitting and receiving ends with three spirals of apertures, each spiral with a filter of a different primary colour; and three light sources at the receiving end, with a commutator to alternate their illumination.[28][29] That same year he also demonstrated stereoscopic television.[30]

Broadcasting edit

In 1927, Baird transmitted a long-distance television signal over 438 miles (705 km) of telephone line between London and Glasgow; Baird transmitted the world's first long-distance television pictures to the Central Hotel at Glasgow Central Station.[31] This transmission was Baird's response to a 225-mile, long-distance telecast between stations of AT&T Bell Labs.[32] The Bell stations were in New York and Washington, DC. The earlier telecast took place in April 1927, a month before Baird's demonstration.[20]

Baird demonstrating his mechanical television system in New York, 1931

Baird set up the Baird Television Development Company Ltd, which in 1928 made the first transatlantic television transmission, from London to Hartsdale, New York, and in 1929 the first television programmes officially transmitted by the BBC. In November 1929, Baird and Bernard Natan established France's first television company, Télévision-Baird-Natan.[33] Broadcast on the BBC on 14 July 1930, The Man with the Flower in His Mouth was the first drama shown on UK television.[34] The BBC transmitted Baird's first live outside broadcast with the televising of The Derby in 1931.[35][36] He demonstrated a theatre television system, with a screen two feet by five feet (60 cm by 150 cm), in 1930 at the London Coliseum, Berlin, Paris, and Stockholm.[37] By 1939 he had improved his theatre projection to televise a boxing match on a screen 15 ft (4.6 m) by 12 ft (3.7 m).[38]

From 1929 to 1935, the BBC transmitters were used to broadcast television programmes using the 30-line Baird system, and from 1932 to 1935 the BBC also produced the programmes in their own studio, first at Broadcasting House and then later at 16 Portland Place.[39] In addition, from 1933 Baird and the Baird Company were producing and broadcasting a small number of television programmes independent of the BBC from Baird's studios and transmitter at the Crystal Palace in south London.[40]

On 2 November 1936, from Alexandra Palace located on the high ground of the north London ridge, the BBC began alternating Baird 240-line transmissions with EMI's electronic scanning system, which had recently been improved to 405-lines after a merger with Marconi. The Baird system at the time involved an intermediate film process, where footage was shot on cinefilm, which was rapidly developed and scanned.[citation needed]

An early experimental television broadcast

The trial was due to last for 6 months but the BBC ceased broadcasts with the Baird system in February 1937, due in part to a disastrous fire in the Baird facilities at Crystal Palace. It was becoming apparent to the BBC that the Baird system would ultimately fail due in large part to the lack of mobility of the Baird system's cameras, with their developer tanks, hoses, and cables.[41] Commercially Baird’s contemporaries, such as George William Walton and William Stephenson, were ultimately more successful as their patents underpinned the early television system used by Scophony Limited who operated in Britain up to WWII and then in the US. "Of all the electro-mechanical television techniques invented and developed by the mid 1930s, the technology known as Scophony had no rival in terms of technical performance."[42][page needed] In 1948 Scophony acquired John Logie Baird Ltd.

Baird's television systems were replaced by the first fully electronic television system developed by the newly formed company EMI-Marconi under Sir Isaac Shoenberg, who headed a research group that developed an advanced camera tube (the Emitron) and a relatively efficient hard-vacuum cathode-ray tube for the television receiver.[43] Philo T. Farnsworth's electronic "Image Dissector" camera was available to Baird's company via a patent-sharing agreement. However, the Image Dissector camera was found to be lacking in light sensitivity, requiring excessive levels of illumination. The Baird company used the Farnsworth tubes instead to scan cinefilm, in which capacity they proved serviceable though prone to drop-outs and other problems. Farnsworth himself came to London to the Baird Crystal Palace laboratories in 1936 but was unable to fully solve the problem; the fire that burned Crystal Palace to the ground later that year further hampered the Baird company's ability to compete.[44]

Fully electronic edit

This live image of Paddy Naismith was used to demonstrate Baird's first all-electronic colour television system, which used two projection CRTs. The two-colour image would be similar to the later Telechrome system.

Baird made many contributions to the field of electronic television after mechanical systems became obsolete. In 1939, he showed a system known today as hybrid colour using a cathode ray tube in front of which revolved a disc fitted with colour filters, a method taken up by CBS and RCA in the United States.[45]

As early as 1940, Baird had started work on a fully electronic system he called the "Telechrome". Early Telechrome devices used two electron guns aimed at either side of a phosphor plate. The phosphor was patterned so the electrons from the guns only fell on one side of the patterning or the other. Using cyan and magenta phosphors, a reasonable limited-colour image could be obtained. He also demonstrated the same system using monochrome signals to produce a 3D image (called "stereoscopic" at the time).[citation needed]

A Baird television advertisement circa 1949

In 1941, he patented and demonstrated this system of three-dimensional television at a definition of 500 lines. On 16 August 1944, he gave the world's first demonstration of a practical fully electronic colour television display.[46] His 600-line colour system used triple interlacing, using six scans to build each picture.[6][45] Similar concepts were common through the 1940s and 50s, differing primarily in the way they re-combined the colours generated by the three guns. One of them, the Geer tube, was similar to Baird's concept, but used small pyramids with the phosphors deposited on their outside faces, instead of Baird's 3D patterning on a flat surface.[citation needed]

In 1943, the Hankey Committee was appointed to oversee the resumption of television broadcasts after the war. Baird persuaded them to make plans to adopt his proposed 1000-line Telechrome electronic colour system as the new post-war broadcast standard. The picture resolution on this system would have been comparable to today's HDTV (High Definition Television). The Hankey Committee's plan lost all momentum partly due to the challenges of postwar reconstruction. The monochrome 405-line standard remained in place until 1985 in some areas, and the 625-line system was introduced in 1964 and (PAL) colour in 1967. A demonstration of large screen three-dimensional television by the BBC was reported in March 2008, over 60 years after Baird's demonstration.[47][page needed]

Other inventions edit

Some of Baird's early inventions were not fully successful. In his twenties he tried to create diamonds by heating graphite. Later Baird invented a glass razor, which was rust-resistant, but shattered. Inspired by pneumatic tyres he attempted to make pneumatic shoes, but his prototype contained semi-inflated balloons, which burst (years later this same idea was successfully adopted for Dr. Martens boots). He also invented a thermal undersock (the Baird undersock), which was moderately successful. Baird suffered from cold feet, and after a number of trials, he found that an extra layer of cotton inside the sock provided warmth.[15]

Between 1926 and 1928, he attempted to develop an early video recording device, which he dubbed Phonovision.[48] The system consisted of a large Nipkow scanning disk attached by a mechanical linkage to a record-cutting lathe. The result was a disc that could record a 30-line video signal. Technical difficulties with the system prevented its further development, but some of the original Phonovision discs have been preserved.[49][50]

Baird's other developments were in fibre-optics, radio direction finding, infrared night viewing and radar. There is discussion about his exact contribution to the development of radar, for his wartime defence projects have never been officially acknowledged by the UK government. According to Malcolm Baird, his son, what is known is that in 1926 Baird filed a patent for a device that formed images from reflected radio waves, a device remarkably similar to radar, and that he was in correspondence with the British government at the time.[51] The radar contribution is in dispute. According to some experts, Baird's "Noctovision" is not radar. Unlike radar (except Doppler radar), Noctovision is incapable of determining the distance to the scanned subject. Noctovision also cannot determine the coordinates of the subject in three-dimensional space.[52]

Death edit

From December 1944, Logie Baird lived at 1 Station Road, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex, he later died there on 14 June 1946 after suffering a stroke in February.[53] The house was demolished in 2007 and the site is now occupied by apartments named Baird Court.[53] Logie Baird is buried beside his parents in Helensburgh Cemetery, Argyll, Scotland.[54]

Honours and portrayals edit

Blue plaque erected by Greater London Council at 3 Crescent Wood Road, Sydenham, London

Australian television's Logie Awards were named in honour of John Logie Baird's contribution to the invention of the television.

Baird became the only deceased subject of This Is Your Life when he was honoured by Eamonn Andrews at the BBC Television Theatre in 1957.[citation needed]

In 2014, the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) inducted Logie Baird into The Honor Roll, which "posthumously recognizes individuals who were not awarded Honorary Membership during their lifetimes but whose contributions would have been sufficient to warrant such an honor".[55]

See also edit

References and notes edit

This article incorporates material from the Citizendium article "John Logie Baird", which is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License but not under the GFDL.
  1. ^ "Baird": Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition.
  2. ^ "The "Televisor" Successful Test of New Apparatus", The Times (London), Thursday 28 January 1926, p. 9 column C.
  3. ^ a b "Who invented the television? How people reacted to John Logie Baird's creation 90 years ago". The Telegraph. 26 January 2016. Archived from the original on 26 January 2016.
  4. ^ "Who invented the mechanical television? (John Logie Baird)". Google. 26 January 2016.
  5. ^ a b c "Historic Figures: John Logie Baird (1888–1946)". BBC. Retrieved 28 April 2015.
  6. ^ a b Albert Abramson, The History of Television, 1942 to 2000, McFarland & Company, 2003, pp. 13–14. ISBN 0-7864-1220-8
  7. ^ "John Logie Baird was voted the second most popular Scottish scientist". Scottish Science Hall of Fame. National Library of Scotland. 2009. Archived from the original on 19 July 2010. Retrieved 6 January 2010.
  8. ^ "2015 Inductee: John Logie Baird". Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame. Retrieved 4 October 2015
  9. ^ "IEEE Milestone Celebration" – The Evolution of Television from Baird to the Digital Age. Retrieved 1 August 2020
  10. ^ "John Logie Baird | the Royal Mint".
  11. ^ Burns, John Logie Baird, television pioneer p.1
  12. ^ "BBC – History – John Logie Baird".
  13. ^ R. W. Burns (2000). John Logie Baird, Television Pioneer. IET. p. 10. ISBN 9780852967973. "Even Baird's conversion to agnosticism while living at home does not appear to have stimulated a rebuke from the Reverend John Baird. Moreover, Baird was freely allowed to try to persuade others—including visiting clergy—to his beliefs."
  14. ^ T. McArthur and P. Waddell, Vision Warrior, Orkney Press, 1990
  15. ^ a b American Media History, Fellow, p. 278
  16. ^ Burns, Russell (2000). John Logie Baird, television pioneer. London: Institution of Electrical Engineers. p. 50. ISBN 9780852967973. john logie baird 1924 demonstration radio times.
  17. ^ Burns, R.W. (2000). John Logie Baird: Television Pioneer. IET. p. 59.
  18. ^ "Australian Web Archive". 23 August 2006. Archived from the original on 2 March 2004. Retrieved 2 October 2013.
  19. ^ Albert Abramson, The History of Television, 1880 to 1941, McFarland, 1987, pp. 13–15.
  20. ^ a b Albert Abramson, The History of Television, 1880 to 1941, McFarland, 1987, pp. 99–101.
  21. ^ R. W. Burns, Television: An International History of the Formative Years, p. 264.
  22. ^ Donald F. McLean, Restoring Baird's Image, p. 37.
  23. ^ a b Inglis, Brandon D.; Couples, Gary D. (August 2020). "John Logie Baird and the Secret in the Box: The Undiscovered Story Behind the World's First Public Demonstration of Television". Proceedings of the IEEE. 108 (8): 1371–1382. doi:10.1109/JPROC.2020.2996793.
  24. ^ Cooke, Lez (2015). British Television Drama: A History. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 9.
  25. ^ Inglis, Brandon D.; Couples, Gary D. (August 2020). "John Logie Baird And The Secret In The Box: The Undiscovered Story Behind The World's First Public Demonstration Of Television". Proceedings of the IEEE. 108 (8): 1371–1382. doi:10.1109/JPROC.2020.2996793. ISSN 1558-2256.
  26. ^ Kamm and Baird, John Logie Baird: A Life, p. 69
  27. ^ McLean, Donald F. (July 2014). "The Achievement of Television: The Quality and Features of John Logie Baird's System in 1926". The International Journal for the History of Engineering & Technology. 84 (2): 227–247. doi:10.1179/1758120614Z.00000000048. ISSN 1758-1206. S2CID 110636009.
  28. ^ "Patent US1925554 – Television apparatus and the like". Archived from the original on 18 May 2013. Retrieved 23 January 2008.
  29. ^ John Logie Baird, Television Apparatus and the Like Archived 18 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine, U.S. patent, filed in U.K. in 1928.
  30. ^ R. F. Tiltman, How "Stereoscopic" Television is Shown, Radio News, Nov. 1928.
  31. ^ Interview with Paul Lyons Archived 8 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine, Historian and Control and Information Officer at Glasgow Central Station
  32. ^ McLean, Donald F. (June 2019). "Seeing Across Oceans: John Logie Baird's 1928 Trans-Atlantic Television Demonstration [Scanning Our Past]". Proceedings of the IEEE. 107 (6): 1206–1218. doi:10.1109/JPROC.2019.2911770. ISSN 0018-9219.
  33. ^ "Scottish fact of the day: first TV signal broadcast". The Scotsman. 9 October 2017.
  34. ^ "The Man with the Flower in his Mouth". BBC. 9 October 2017.
  35. ^ "BBC's first television outside broadcast" (PDF). Prospero. Archived (PDF) from the original on 9 October 2022.
  36. ^ Iain Logie Baird (April 2021). "Televising the Derby (1931)".{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  37. ^ John Logie Baird. "Television in 1932".
  38. ^ "Baird Television Limited – Growing Demand For Home Receivers – Success of Large Screen Projections in Cinemas – etc". The Times, 3 April 1939 p23 column A.
  39. ^ Iain Logie Baird. "1932 Television Demonstrated in 1952".
  40. ^ Ray Herbert, The Crystal Palace Television Studios: John Logie Baird and British Television, accessed online 6 January 2019
  41. ^ Kamm and Baird, John Logie Baird: A Life, p. 286
  42. ^ Paul Marshall, Inventing Television: Transnational Networks of Co-operation and Rivalry, 1870-1936, Link[page needed]
  43. ^ "Sir Isaac Shoenberg, British inventor". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved 22 July 2020. principal inventor of the first high-definition television system
  44. ^ Kamm and Baird, John Logie Baird: A Life, pp. 286–289.
  45. ^ a b The World's First High Definition Colour Television System
  46. ^ Hempstead, Colin (2005). Encyclopedia of 20th-Century Technology. Routledge. p. 824.
  47. ^ "The Challenges of Three-Dimensional Television" (PDF). BBC. 7 June 2016. Archived (PDF) from the original on 9 October 2022.[page needed]
  48. ^ McLean, Donald F (April 1985). "Computer-based analysis and restoration of Baird 30-line television recordings". Journal of the Royal Television Society. 22: 87–94.
  49. ^ "The dawn of TV: Mechanical era of British television".
  50. ^ McLean, Donald F. (2000). Restoring Baird's image. Institution of Electrical Engineers. London: Institution of Electrical Engineers. ISBN 0-85296-795-0. OCLC 44693906.
  51. ^ "Television, Radar and J.L. Baird".
  52. ^ Russell Burns, John Logie Baird (N.C.: The Institution of Engineering and Technology, 2001), 119.
  53. ^ a b "125th birthday of the inventor of television John Logie Baird". Hastings Observer. 2 September 2013. Archived from the original on 31 January 2016. Retrieved 26 January 2016.
  54. ^ Burns, R. W. (2 October 2000). "John Logie Baird : television pioneer". London : Institution of Electrical Engineers – via Internet Archive.
  55. ^ "SMPTE® Announces 2014 Honorees and Award Winners". Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers. Archived from the original on 5 October 2018. Retrieved 10 November 2014.

Further reading edit


  • Baird, John Logie, Television and Me: The Memoirs of John Logie Baird. Edinburgh: Mercat Press, 2004. ISBN 1-84183-063-1
  • Burns, Russell, John Logie Baird, television pioneer. London: The Institution of Electrical Engineers, 2000. ISBN 0-85296-797-7
  • Kamm, Antony, and Malcolm Baird, John Logie Baird: A Life. Edinburgh: NMS Publishing, 2002. ISBN 1-901663-76-0
  • McArthur, Tom, and Peter Waddell, The Secret Life of John Logie Baird. London: Hutchinson, 1986. ISBN 0-09-158720-4.
  • McLean, Donald F., Restoring Baird's Image. The Institute of Electrical Engineers, 2000. ISBN 0-85296-795-0.
  • Rowland, John, The Television Man: The Story of John Logie Baird. New York: Roy Publishers, 1967.
  • Tiltman, Ronald Frank, Baird of Television. New York: Arno Press, 1974. (Reprint of 1933 ed.) ISBN 0-405-06061-0.


External links edit