University of Strathclyde
John Logie Baird,
The inventions of John Logie Baird
The "Baird Undersock"
Frequently, the mind of the inventor displays itself in
childhood. Through play, and by tinkering with household materials, a youngster
may develop his or her skills in surprising directions. This was certainly the
case with John Logie Baird. Born in Helensburgh, Scotland, in 1888, as a
schoolboy Baird set up a telephone system linking his family home with those of
four friends. Later, he converted the wiring to bring electric lighting to the
house — the first in the town. And before turning to the field in which he is
most famous — television — Baird first earned an income through the invention of
something quite different: damp-proof socks.
In answer to the question posed in last month’s Pioneers’
Page, it was indeed John Logie Baird who, in 1918, patented the "Baird
Undersock." Described as being "warm in winter, cool in summer," the medicated,
absorbent socks were sprinkled with borax and were designed to be worn beneath
ordinary socks. Using the profits from this invention, Baird tried to set up a
jam-making business in Trinidad, but — fortunately for the future of television
— the venture failed.
The screen on Baird’s Televisor was
tiny, and had to be viewed in a darkened room
Turning to television
It is not easy to give a precise answer to the question "who
invented television?" Many people contributed the elements of a system for
"seeing at a distance." It was Baird, however, who, in October 1925, achieved
the first television image and, soon afterwards, gave the first public
demonstration of the new medium, in London. He used a device that he had named a
"Televisor," based on a mechanical system for scanning images that had been
invented in Germany by Paul Nipkow in 1884. A similar idea was also being
explored in the United States by Charles Francis Jenkins.
Baird succeeded in producing a picture comprising just 30
lines that refreshed itself 12.5 times per second. A decade or so later, this
mechanical device was supplanted by electronic television systems, based on the
cathode ray tube, which were developed in the United States by Russian inventor
Vladimir Zworykin and by Philo T. Farnsworth. It was this type of equipment,
which could offer pictures with hundreds of lines, that became the basis for the
boom in television from that time onwards.
While Baird may not have been the originator of modern
television, he was nevertheless a talented engineer who contributed a great deal
to the new technology. In fact (and also in answer to last month’s question), it
was Baird who invented the world’s first video recorder. In October 1926 he
applied for a patent on "Phonovision", his system of recording on video disks.
Phonovision was the world's first
method of recording television
The first recordings
Phonovision too was based on mechanical principals. The
television camera was linked mechanically to an instrument for recording
gramophone records. It was on such disks that the limited bandwidth of Baird’s
broadcasts could be recorded. Phonovision had two major problems to deal with:
the poor recording quality of the day, and the lack of synchronization in the
replay speed of the disk. To create a steady image, the same two pieces of
equipment had to be used for recording and playback.
Because of these difficulties, Baird’s plan to produce
domestic versions of "Phonovisors" was never realized. But in 1996, Britain’s
National Museum of Photography, Film and Television decided to make modern
copies of the Baird disks in their possession, so as to keep the images safe in
their archives. Consultant engineer Donald McLean developed special computer
programs to use digital imaging to recover the Phonovision pictures for
These were the first electronic images ever to be recorded,
predating the invention of a practicable video recorder by some 25 years. And it
would be half a century before video recorders for home use were developed in
Colour television too
Baird continued to work on the development of television
—including the electronic system — for the rest of his career. In 1944, for
example, he gave the world’s first demonstration of an entirely electronic
colour television, the "Telechrome." This device had a screen of 75 x 60
centimetres — a far cry from the tiny images on the original Televisor.
John Logie Baird had weak health throughout his life, and it was at the early
age of 57 that he died in England in 1946, a few days after televising the
Victory Parade in London marking the end of the Second World War. He was a
visionary, but could he have imagined the huge, flat, liquid-crystal or plasma
displays in the homes of today? Or the pocket-sized mobile phones that have also
begun to be used as television receivers? Their screens are of a similar size to
those on the Televisior. It seems that, in some ways, television history has
come full circle!
A question for next month:
The oldest existing
of a human voice was made on the forerunner of modern tape recorders.
A world leader speaks. Is it:
a) Queen Victoria, of the United Kingdom
b) Emperor Franz Josef, of Austria-Hungary
c) United States President Herbert Hoover, or
d) Emperor Showa (Hirohito) of Japan?
The answer will be given in next month’s issue of ITU News.