John Logie Baird

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John Logie Baird

John Logie Baird in 1917.jpg
Baird in 1917
Born(1888-08-13)13 August 1888
Died14 June 1946(1946-06-14) (aged 57)
Bexhill, Sussex, England
Resting placeBaird family grave in Helensburgh Cemetery
Education Larchfield Academy, Helensburgh
Alma mater Royal Technical College (now University of Strathclyde)
University of Glasgow
OrganizationConsulting Technical Adviser, Cable & Wireless Ltd (1941–)
director, John Logie Baird Ltd
director, Capital and Provincial Cinemas Ltd
Known forThe world's first working television system, [1] including the first colour television.
Spouse(s)Margaret Albu (m. 1931)
Member of the Physical Society (1927)
Member of the Television Society (1927)
Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1937)

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


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.

During 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] On 26 January 2017 – IEEE unveiled a bronze street plaque at 22 Frith Street (Bar Italia), London, dedicated to Baird and the invention of television. [9]

Early years

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 a wealthy family of shipbuilders from Glasgow. [10] [11]

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. [12] 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. [13]

Television experiments

In June 1924, Baird bought from Cyril Frank Elwell a thallium sulphide (Thalofide) cell, developed by Theodore Case in the USA. 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. [1]

John Logie Baird with his television apparatus, circa 1925 John Logie Baird, Apparatus.jpg
John Logie Baird with his television apparatus, circa 1925

In his first attempts to develop a working television system, Baird experimented with the Nipkow disk. Paul Gottlieb Nipkow had invented this scanning disc system in 1884. [14] Television historian Albert Abramson calls Nipkow's patent "the master television patent". [15] Nipkow's work is important because Baird and many others chose to develop it into a broadcast medium.

An early experimental television broadcast Baird experimental broadcast.jpg
An early experimental television broadcast

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 including 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. [16] In February 1924, he demonstrated to the Radio Times that a semi-mechanical analogue television system was possible by transmitting moving silhouette images. [17] In July of the same year, he received a 1000-volt electric shock, but survived with only a burnt hand, and as a result his landlord, Mr Tree, asked him to vacate the premises. [18] 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. [19]

Baird in 1926 with his televisor equipment and dummies "James" and "Stooky Bill" John Logie Baird and Stooky Bill.png
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 30-line vertically scanned image, at five pictures per second. [20] 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. [21] 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." [22]

First public demonstrations

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.) John Logie Baird, 1st Image.jpg
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 repeated the transmission 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. [23] [5] [24] 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 broadcast live moving images with tonal graduation. [3]

Blue plaque marking Baird's first demonstration of television at 22 Frith Street, Westminster, W1, London John Logie Baird Blue Plaque.jpg
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. [25] [26] The demonstration was of a young girl wearing different coloured hats. Noele Gordon went on to become a successful TV actress, famous for the soap opera Crossroads . That same year he also demonstrated stereoscopic television. [27]


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. [28] This transmission was Baird's response to a 225-mile, long-distance telecast between stations of AT&T Bell Labs. The Bell stations were in New York and Washington, DC. The earlier telecast took place in April 1927, a month before Baird's demonstration. [15]

Baird demonstrating his mechanical television system in New York, 1931 John Logie Baird and mechanical television.jpg
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 the first television programme for the BBC. [5] In November 1929, Baird and Bernard Natan established France's first television company, Télévision-Baird-Natan. [29] Broadcast on the BBC on 14 July 1930, The Man with the Flower in His Mouth was the first drama shown on UK television. [30] Baird televised the BBC's first live outside broadcast with transmission of The Derby in 1931. [31] 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. [32] 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). [33]

1930s Baird television advertisement Thinktank Birmingham - Baird.jpg
1930s Baird television advertisement

From 1929 to 1932, 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 at 16 Portland Place. In addition, from 1933 Baird and the Baird Company were producing and broadcasting television programmes independently to the BBC, from Baird's studios and transmitter at the Crystal Palace in south London. [34]

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. The trial was due to last 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. [35]

Baird's television systems were replaced by the electronic television system developed by the newly formed company EMI-Marconi under Isaac Shoenberg, which had access to patents developed by Vladimir Zworykin and RCA. Similarly, 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. Baird 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 Baird's 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. [36]

Fully electronic

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 basic telechrome system. Baird first color photo.jpg
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 basic 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. [37]

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). 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. [38] His 600-line colour system used triple interlacing, using six scans to build each picture. [6] [37] 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.

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. [39]

Other inventions

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. [16]

In 1928, he developed an early video recording device, which he dubbed Phonovision. The system consisted of a large Nipkow disk attached by a mechanical linkage to a conventional 78-rpm record-cutting lathe. The result was a disc that could record and play back a 30-line video signal. Technical difficulties with the system prevented its further development, but some of the original phonodiscs have been preserved. [40]

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. 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. [41]

Later years

From December 1944, Logie Baird lived at 1 Station Road, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex, immediately north of the station and subsequently died there on 14 June 1946 after suffering a stroke in February. [42] The house was demolished in 2007 and the site is now apartments named Baird Court. [42] Logie Baird is buried beside his parents in Helensburgh Cemetery, Argyll, Scotland. [43]

Honours and portrayals

Blue plaque erected by Greater London Council at 3 Crescent Wood Road, Sydenham, London JOHN LOGIE BAIRD 1888-1946 Television pioneer lived here.jpg
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. [44]

He was played by Michael Gwynn (and also by Andrew Irvine, who played him as a boy) in the 1957 TV film A Voice in Vision [45] and by Robert McIntosh in the 1986 TV drama The Fools on the Hill. [46]

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". [47]

On 26 January 2016, the search engine Google released a Google Doodle to mark the 90th anniversary of Logie Baird's first public demonstration of live television. [3]

See also

References and notes


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. 1 2 3 4 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 .
  2. "Baird": Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition.
  3. 1 2 3 "Who invented the television? How people reacted to John Logie Baird's creation 90 years ago". The Telegraph. 26 January 2016.
  4. "Who invented the mechanical television? (John Logie Baird)". Google. 26 January 2016.
  5. 1 2 3 4 "Historic Figures: John Logie Baird (1888–1946)". BBC. Retrieved 28 April 2015.
  6. 1 2 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. Burns, John Logie Baird, television pioneer p.1
  11. "BBC – History – John Logie Baird".
  12. 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."
  13. T. McArthur and P. Waddell, Vision Warrior, Orkney Press, 1990
  14. Albert Abramson, The History of Television, 1880 to 1941, McFarland, 1987, pp. 13–15.
  15. 1 2 Albert Abramson, The History of Television, 1880 to 1941, McFarland, 1987, pp. 99–101.
  16. 1 2 American Media History, Fellow, p. 278
  17. Burns, Russell (2000). John Logie Baird, television pioneer . London: Institution of Electrical Engineers. p.  50. ISBN   9780852967973. john logie baird 1924 demonstration radio times.
  18. Burns, R.W. (2000). John Logie Baird: Television Pioneer. IET. p. 59.
  19. Cooke, Lez (2015). British Television Drama: A History. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 9.
  20. R. W. Burns, Television: An International History of the Formative Years, p. 264.
  21. Donald F. McLean, Restoring Baird's Image, p. 37.
  22. "Pandora Archive". 23 August 2006. Archived from the original on 3 March 2004. Retrieved 2 October 2013.
  23. 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.
  24. Kamm and Baird, John Logie Baird: A Life, p. 69
  25. "Patent US1925554 – Television apparatus and the like".
  26. John Logie Baird, Television Apparatus and the Like, U.S. patent, filed in U.K. in 1928.
  27. R. F. Tiltman, How "Stereoscopic" Television is Shown, Radio News, Nov. 1928.
  28. Interview with Paul Lyons Archived 8 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine , Historian and Control and Information Officer at Glasgow Central Station
  29. "Scottish fact of the day: first TV signal broadcast". The Scotsman. 9 October 2017.
  30. "The Man with the Flower in his Mouth". BBC. 9 October 2017.
  31. "BBC's first television outside broadcast" (PDF). Prospero.
  32. J.L. Baird, Television in 1932.
  33. "Baird Television Limited – Growing Demand For Home Receivers – Success of Large Screen Projections in Cinemas – etc". The Times , 3 April 1939 p23 column A.
  34. Ray Herbert, The Crystal Palace Television Studios: John Logie Baird and British Television, accessed online 6 January 2019 Link
  35. Kamm and Baird, John Logie Baird: A Life, p. 286
  36. Kamm and Baird, John Logie Baird: A Life, pp. 286–289.
  37. 1 2 The World's First High Definition Colour Television System. McLean, p. 196.
  38. Hempstead, Colin (2005). Encyclopedia of 20th-Century Technology. Routledge. p. 824.
  39. "The Challenges of Three-Dimensional Television" (PDF). BBC. 7 June 2016.
  40. "The dawn of TV: Mechanical era of British television".
  41. Russell Burns, John Logie Baird (N.C.: The Institution of Engineering and Technology, 2001), 119.
  42. 1 2 "125th birthday of the inventor of television John Logie Baird". Hastings Observer. 2 September 2013. Retrieved 26 January 2016.
  43. Burns, R. W. (2 October 2000). "John Logie Baird : television pioneer". London : Institution of Electrical Engineers via Internet Archive.
  44. "John Logie BAIRD (1888–1946)". The Big Red Book. Retrieved 27 January 2016.
  45. "A Voice in Vision (1957)". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 16 May 2015. Retrieved 14 September 2015.
  46. "The Fools on the Hill". Internet Movie Database . Retrieved 11 August 2015.
  47. "SMPTE® Announces 2014 Honorees and Award Winners". Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers. Retrieved 10 November 2014.

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