John Logie Baird Biography (1888-1946)


John Logie Baird was one of the principal players in the early days of television. His invention, the photomechanical television, was the first to broadcast a live transmission. Born in Scotland in 1888, Baird received his education at the Royal Technical College and the University of Glasgow. Plagued by poor health, he was unable to serve in World War I and was ultimately forced toresign his position as an electrical engineer. He then decided to become a "professional amateur," and pursued many different interests and enterprises.However, after exhaustion led to a nervous breakdown, Baird chose to concentrate on electronics, especially following Guglielmo Marconi's demonstration ofhow radio waves could be used to carry an audio signal. Baird was certain that a similar process could transmit a visual signal, and he began working upon a design that would do so. At the heart of Baird's design was a device called a Nipkow disk, a scanning disk invented in 1884 by the German scientist Paul Nipkow. Basically, this device was comprised of a cardboard disk with a series of square holes, situated in a spiral. When coupled with a photoelectriccell and spun, the Nipkow disk is able to scan areas of lightness and darkness and convert that information into an electrical signal. By using a seconddisk, synchronized with the first, Nipkow was able to retranslate that signalinto a primitive visual image. Baird took Nipkow's idea one step farther, developing a system by which the signal could be sent via electromagnetic waves, rather than cables. While still in the developmental stages, Baird's invention found little financial support, since most investors considered it a merenovelty. During this time Baird worked as a shoe shiner and a razor blade salesman, earning just enough money to pay for food, shelter, and mechanical supplies. Much of the prototype for his invention was built out of household items such as a cake tin, knitting needles, a bicycle lamp, and string. On October 2, 1925, Baird succeeded in sending the image of a ventriloquist's dummyfrom one end of his attic to the other. Exhilarated, he ran to the shop downstairs and persuaded a young boy to become the first person to have his imagetransmitted by television. Baird became famous nearly overnight, and soon investors were giving him enough money to pursue even more ambitious goals. In 1927 he sent a television signal from London to Glasgow and in 1928 from London to New York. Unfortunately, the Nipkow disk and the photomechanical designproduced an image of very poor resolution--a flaw inherent to the mechanicaldesign. Soon, Baird's invention would be replaced by the cathode-ray tube design of Vladimir Zworykin. Still, Baird continued to strive for better television designs. He helped to develop natural color television as well as large-screen projection, which, he envisioned, would ultimately allow the public towatch television on a movie screen. Baird died in obscurity, his early contributions nearly forgotten, in 1946, at the age of 58.

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