John Logie Baird was a Scottish engineer, most famous for being the first person to demonstrate a working television. At the age of 34, when he began his quest to develop television, he already had a string of business ventures behind him. He had narrowly failed to invent processes for the manufacture of industrial diamonds and the air-soled shoe. Other experiments ranged from a disastrous homemade haemorrhoid cream to a rustless glass razor (with which he had badly cut himself before abandoning the project).
His experiments suggested to him that the minimum number of TV lines to produce a recognisable image of the human face was 30, and this was the standard he adopted. (It would have been fairly easy to increase the number of lines in the laboratory, but along with all the other television pioneers, he had the problem of limited bandwidth to amplify and transmit the signals.) Thus ‘low definition’ television was born.
Baird’s breakthrough came on 2 October 1925 when he produced a recognisable image, complete with shades of grey. On 26 January of the following year he gave the world’s first public demonstration of television.
John Logie Baird Full Biography and Profile
John Logie Baird was born on 14 August 1888 in Helensburgh on the west coast of Scotland, the son of a clergyman. Dogged by ill health for most of his life, he nonetheless showed early signs of ingenuity, rigging up a telephone exchange to connect his bedroom to those of his friends across the street.
His studies at the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College were interrupted by the outbreak of World War One.
Rejected as unfit for the forces, he served as superintendent engineer of the Clyde Valley Electrical Power Company.
When the war ended he set himself up in business, with mixed results.
Baird then moved to the south coast of England and applied himself to creating a television, a dream of many scientists for decades.
His first crude apparatus was made of odds and ends, but by 1924 he managed to transmit a flickering image across a few feet.
On 26 January 1926 he gave the world’s first demonstration of true television before 50 scientists in an attic room in central London.
In 1927, his television was demonstrated over 438 miles of telephone line between London and Glasgow, and he formed the Baird Television Development Company.
In 1928, the BTDC achieved the first transatlantic television transmission between London and New York and the first transmission to a ship in mid-Atlantic. He also gave the first demonstration of both colour and stereoscopic television.
In 1929, the German post office gave him the facilities to develop an experimental television service based on his mechanical system, the only one operable at the time. Sound and vision were initially sent alternately, and only began to be transmitted simultaneously from 1930.
However, Baird’s mechanical system was rapidly becoming obsolete as electronic systems were developed, chiefly by Marconi-EMI in Britain and America.
Although he had invested in the mechanical system in order to achieve early results, Baird had also been exploring electronic systems from an early stage.
Nevertheless, a BBC committee of inquiry in 1935 prompted a side-by-side trial between Marconi-EMI’s all-electronic television system, which worked on 405 lines to Baird’s 240. Marconi-EMI won, and in 1937 Baird’s system was dropped.
A prolific inventor, by the end of 1928 Baird had gone on to claim a number of firsts:
- He developed a system of colour television in 1928 which later would form the basis of the technique used by NASA to bring live colour TV pictures from the moon (he continued to be fascinated by colour television, and in the 30s and 40s demonstrated colour pictures that were of outstanding quality).
- He demonstrated stereoscopic (3D) television in August 1928.
- His demonstration of Infra-red television (the basis of many modern CCTV security systems) caused a huge stir in the scientific and military world.
- Some 34 years before the USA claimed success with the ‘first’ transatlantic television pictures, Baird succeeded in transmitting live television pictures from London to New York.
- Foreseeing the need to be able to record television programmes, he developed ‘Phonovision’, a system of recording television on to discs. Baird was unable to successfully replay these recordings in 1928, but they have recently been restored and the world’s first video recordings can now be seen.
John Logie Baird died on 14 June 1946 in Bexhill-on-Sea in Sussex.
- John Logie Baird Biography and Profile (BBC)