Vladimir K. Zworykin

Last updated
Vladimir K. Zworykin
Vladimir Zworykin in 1956
Vladimir Kosmich Zworykin

(1888-07-29)July 29, 1888
DiedJuly 29, 1982(1982-07-29) (aged 94)
CitizenshipRussian, American
Education Saint Petersburg State Institute of Technology
University of Pittsburgh (PhD)
Spouse(s)Tatiana Vasilieff (m. 1915) 2nd wife Katherine Polevitsky (m. 1951)
Engineering career
Projects Television, Electron Microscope
Significant design Iconoscope, Photomultiplier
Significant advanceInventor of the kinescope and other components of early television technology
Awards IRE Medal of Honor, 1951, IEEE Edison Medal, 1952

Vladimir Kosmich Zworykin (Russian : Влади́мир Козьми́ч Зворы́кин, Vladimir Koz'mich Zvorykin; July 29 [ O.S. July 17] 1888 July 29, 1982) [1] [2] was a Russian-American inventor, engineer, and pioneer of television technology. Zworykin invented a television transmitting and receiving system employing cathode ray tubes. He played a role in the practical development of television from the early thirties, including charge storage-type tubes, infrared image tubes and the electron microscope. [3]

Russian language East Slavic language

Russian is an East Slavic language, which is official in the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as being widely used throughout Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, the Caucasus and Central Asia. It was the de facto language of the Soviet Union until its dissolution on 25 December 1991. Although nearly three decades have passed since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian is used in official capacity or in public life in all the post-Soviet nation-states, as well as in Israel and Mongolia.

Old Style and New Style dates 16th-century changes in calendar conventions

Old Style (O.S.) and New Style (N.S.) are terms sometimes used with dates to indicate that the calendar convention used at the time described is different from that in use at the time the document was being written. There were two calendar changes in Great Britain and its colonies, which may sometimes complicate matters: the first was to change the start of the year from Lady Day to 1 January; the second was to discard the Julian calendar in favour of the Gregorian calendar. Closely related is the custom of dual dating, where writers gave two consecutive years to reflect differences in the starting date of the year, or to include both the Julian and Gregorian dates.

Television Telecommunication medium for transmitting and receiving moving images

Television (TV), sometimes shortened to tele or telly, is a telecommunication medium used for transmitting moving images in monochrome, or in colour, and in two or three dimensions and sound. The term can refer to a television set, a television program, or the medium of television transmission. Television is a mass medium for advertising, entertainment and news.


Early life and education

Vladimir Kosmich Zworykin was born in Murom, Russia, in 1888, on July 29 (July 17 in the Julian calendar), to the family of a prosperous merchant. He had a relatively calm upbringing, and he rarely saw his father except on religious holidays.

Murom City in Vladimir Oblast, Russia

Murom is a historical city in Vladimir Oblast, Russia, which sprawls along the left bank of the Oka River. Population: 116,075 (2010 Census); 126,901 (2002 Census); 124,229 (1989 Census).

The Julian calendar, proposed by Julius Caesar in 708 AUC (46 BC/BCE), was a reform of the Roman calendar. It took effect on 1 January 709 AUC (45 BC/BCE), by edict. It was designed with the aid of Greek mathematicians and Greek astronomers such as Sosigenes of Alexandria.

Merchant businessperson who trades in commodities that were produced by others

A merchant is a person who trades in commodities produced by other people. Historically, a merchant is anyone who is involved in business or trade. Merchants have operated for as long as industry, commerce, and trade have existed. In 16th-century Europe, two different terms for merchants emerged: meerseniers referred to local traders and koopman (Dutch: koopman referred to merchants who operated on a global stage, importing and exporting goods over vast distances and offering added-value services such as credit and finance.

He studied at the St. Petersburg Institute of Technology, under Boris Rosing. He helped Rosing with experimental work on television in the basement of Rosing's private lab at the School of Artillery of Saint Petersburg. They worked on the problem of "electrical telescopy," something Zworykin had never heard of before. At this time, electrical telescopy (or television as it was later called) was just a dream. Zworykin did not know that others had been studying the idea since the 1880s, or that Professor Rosing had been working on it in secret since 1902 and had made excellent progress. Rosing had filed his first patent on a television system in 1907, featuring a very early cathode ray tube as a receiver, and a mechanical device as a transmitter. Its demonstration in 1911, based on an improved design, was the world's first demonstration of TV of any kind. [4]

Boris Rosing Russian scientist and inventor in the field of television

Boris Lvovich Rosing was a Russian scientist and inventor in the field of television.

Saint Petersburg Federal city in the Northwestern federal district, Russia

Saint Petersburg is Russia's second-largest city after Moscow, with 5 million inhabitants in 2012, part of the Saint Petersburg agglomeration with a population of 6.2 million (2015). An important Russian port on the Baltic Sea, it has a status of a federal subject.


Zworykin graduated in 1912. He then studied X-rays under professor Paul Langevin in Paris. [4] During World War I, Zworykin was enlisted and served in the Russian Signal Corps. He then worked for Russian Marconi, testing radio equipment that was being produced for the Russian Army. Zworykin left Russia for the United States in 1918 during the Russian Civil War. He left through Siberia, travelling north on the River Ob to the Arctic Ocean as part of an expedition led by Russian scientist Innokenty P. Tolmachev, eventually arriving in the US at the end of 1918. He returned to Omsk, then capital of Admiral Kolchak's government in 1919, via Vladivostok, then to the United States again on official duties from the Omsk government. These duties ended with the collapse of the White movement in Siberia at the death of Kolchak. Zworykin then decided to remain permanently in the US.

Paul Langevin French scientist, physicist, chemist and philosopher of science

Paul Langevin was a French physicist who developed Langevin dynamics and the Langevin equation. He was one of the founders of the Comité de vigilance des intellectuels antifascistes, an antifascist organization created in the wake of the 6 February 1934 far right riots. Langevin was also president of the Human Rights League (LDH) from 1944 to 1946 – he had just recently joined the French Communist Party. Being a public opponent against fascism in the 1930s resulted in his arrest and consequently he was held under house arrest by the Vichy government for most of the war.

World War I 1914–1918 global war starting in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the resulting 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Most of the country is located contiguously in North America between Canada and Mexico.

Zworykin demonstrates electronic television (1929). Zworykin kinescope 1929.jpg
Zworykin demonstrates electronic television (1929).

Once in the U.S., Zworykin found work at the Westinghouse laboratories in Pittsburgh where he eventually had an opportunity to engage in television experiments.

He came up with the main invention of the 20th century – electronic television. He applied for a television patent in the US in 1923. He summarized the resulting invention in two patent applications. The first, entitled "Television Systems", was filed on December 29, 1923, and was followed by a second application in 1925 of essentially the same content, but with minor changes and the addition of a Paget-type screen for color transmission and reception. [5] He was awarded a patent for the 1925 application in 1928, [5] and two patents for the 1923 application that was divided in 1931, [6] [7] although the equipment described was never successfully demonstrated. [8] [9] [4] :51,2 Zworykin described cathode ray tubes as both transmitter and receiver. The operation, whose basic thrust was to prevent the emission of electrons between scansion cycles, was reminiscent of A. A. Campbell Swinton's proposal published in Nature in June 1908. [10] [11]

Alan Archibald Campbell-Swinton Scottish electrical engineer

Alan Archibald Campbell-SwintonFRS was a Scottish consulting electrical engineer, who provided the theoretical basis for the electronic television, two decades before the technology existed to implement it. He began experimenting around 1903 with the use of cathode ray tubes for the electronic transmission and reception of images. Campbell described the theoretical basis for an all electronic method of producing television in a 1908 letter to Nature. Campbell-Swinton's concept was central to the cathode ray television because of his proposed modification of the cathode ray tube that allowed its use as both a transmitter and receiver of light. The cathode-ray tube was the system of electronic television that was subsequently developed in later years, as technology caught up with Campbell-Swinton's initial ideas. Other inventors would use Campbell-Swinton's ideas, as a starting-point to realise the cathode ray tube television as the standard, workable form of all electronic television that it became for decades after his death. It is generally considered that the original credit for the successful theoretical conception of using a cathode ray tube device for imaging should belong to Campbell-Swinton.

<i>Nature</i> (journal) British multidisciplinary scientific journal

Nature is a British multidisciplinary scientific journal, first published on 4 November 1869. It is one of the most recognizable scientific journals in the world, and was ranked the world's most cited scientific journal by the Science Edition of the 2010 Journal Citation Reports and is ascribed an impact factor of 43.070, making it one of the world's top academic journals. It is one of the few remaining academic journals that publishes original research across a wide range of scientific fields.

Drawing from Zworykin's 1923 patent application Television System. Zworykin patent (1923).jpg
Drawing from Zworykin's 1923 patent application Television System.

The demonstration given (sometime in late 1925 or early 1926) by Zworykin was far from a success with the Westinghouse management, even though it showed the possibilities inherent in a system based on the cathode ray tube. He was told by management to "devote his time to more practical endeavours," yet continued his efforts to perfect his system.

As attested by his doctoral dissertation of 1926, earning him a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh, his experiments were directed at improving the output of photoelectric cells. There were, however, limits to how far one could go along these lines, and so, in 1929, Zworykin returned to vibrating mirrors and facsimile transmission, filing patents describing these. At this time, however, he was also experimenting with an improved cathode ray receiving tube, filing a patent application for this in November 1929, and introducing the new receiver that he named the "kinescope", reading a paper two days later at a convention of the Institute of Radio Engineers.

Having developed the prototype of the receiver by December, Zworykin met David Sarnoff, [12] who eventually hired him and put him in charge of television development for the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) at its factories and laboratories in Camden, New Jersey.

The move to the RCA's Camden laboratories occurred in the spring of 1930, and the difficult task of developing a transmitter could begin. There was an in-house evaluation in mid-1930, where the kinescope performed well (but with only 60 lines definition [13] ), and the transmitter was still of a mechanical type. A "breakthrough" would come when the Zworykin team decided to develop a new type of cathode ray transmitter, one described in the French and British patents of 1928 priority by the Hungarian inventor Kalman Tihanyi whom the company had approached in July 1930, after the publication of his patents in England and France. This was a curious design, one where the scanning electron beam would strike the photoelectric cell from the same side where the optical image was cast. Even more importantly, it was a system characterized by an operation based on an entirely new principle, the principle of the accumulation and storage of charges during the entire time between two scansions by the cathode-ray beam.

Zworykin and some of the historic camera tubes he developed Vladimir Zworykin and historic TV tubes.jpg
Zworykin and some of the historic camera tubes he developed

According to Albert Abramson,[ where? ] Zworykin's experiments started in April 1931, and after the achievement of the first promising experimental transmitters, on October 23, 1931, it was decided that the new camera tube would be named the iconoscope. Zworykin first presented his iconoscope to RCA in 1932. [14] He continued work on it, and "[t]he image iconoscope, presented in 1934, was a result of a collaboration between Zworykin and RCA's licensee Telefunken. ... In 1935 the Reichspost started the public broadcastings using this tube and applying a 180 lines system." [14]

Later life

Zworykin married for a second time in 1951. His wife was Katherine Polevitzky (1888-1985), a Russian-born professor of bacteriology at the University of Pennsylvania. It was the second marriage for both. The ceremony was in Burlington, New Jersey. [15] A photographic record of his marriage and worldwide tour can be viewed online. [16] He retired in 1954.

New frontiers in medical engineering and biological engineering appealed to him, and he became a founder and first president of the International Federation for Medical and Biological Engineering. The Federation continues to honor outstanding research engineering with a Zworykin Award, the prize being travelling funds to the award's presentation at a World Congress. [17]


Zworykin died on his 94th birthday, July 29, 1982, in Princeton, New Jersey. [2] His wife Katherine died on February 18, 1985. [18]


Vladimir Zworykin's patent diagram of an iconoscope, 1931, with an apparatus similar to the camera part. Zworykin1931iconoscope.png
Vladimir Zworykin's patent diagram of an iconoscope, 1931, with an apparatus similar to the camera part.

Throughout his steady rise in rank, Zworykin remained involved in the many important developments of RCA and received several outstanding honours, including, in 1934, the Morris Liebmann Memorial Prize from the Institute of Radio Engineers. [20]

He was awarded the Howard N. Potts Medal from The Franklin Institute in 1947. [21]

He was named honorary vice president of RCA in 1954. [22]

In 1966, the National Academy of Sciences awarded him the National Medal of Science for his contributions to the instruments of science, engineering, and television and for his stimulation of the application of engineering to medicine. [22]

He was founder-president of the International Federation for Medical Electronics and Biological Engineering, a recipient of the Faraday Medal from Great Britain (1965), and a member of the U.S. National Hall of Fame from 1977. [22]

He received the first Eduard Rhein Ring of Honor from the German Eduard Rhein Foundation in 1980. [23]

From 1952 to 1986, the IEEE made awards to worthy engineers in the name of Vladimir K. Zworykin. More recently the Zworykin Award has been bestowed by the International Federation for Medical and Biological Engineering. [24]

The most complete list of Zworykin's awards can be found online at historyTV.net . [25]


Zworykin was inducted into the New Jersey Inventor's Hall of Fame and the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Additionally, Tektronix in Beaverton, Oregon has named a street on its campus after Zworykin.

In 1995 University of Illinois Press published Zworykin, Pioneer of Television by Albert Abramson.

In 2010 Leonid Parfyonov produced a documentary film "Zvorykin-Muromets" [26] about Zworykin.

Zworykin is listed in the Russian-American Chamber of Fame of Congress of Russian Americans, which is dedicated to Russian immigrants who made outstanding contributions to American science or culture. [27] [28] [29]

See also

Related Research Articles

Philo Farnsworth American inventor

Philo Taylor Farnsworth was an American inventor and television pioneer. He made many crucial contributions to the early development of all-electronic television. He is best known for his 1927 invention of the first fully functional all-electronic image pickup device, the image dissector, as well as the first fully functional and complete all-electronic television system. Farnsworth developed a television system complete with receiver and camera—which he produced commercially through the Farnsworth Television and Radio Corporation from 1938 to 1951, in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

David Sarnoff American businessman and pioneer of American radio and television

David Sarnoff was an American businessman and pioneer of American radio and television. Throughout most of his career he led the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in various capacities from shortly after its founding in 1919 until his retirement in 1970.

Video camera tube

Video camera tubes were devices based on the cathode ray tube that were used to capture television images prior to the introduction of charge-coupled devices (CCDs) in the 1980s. Several different types of tubes were in use from the early 1930s to the 1980s.

The year 1933 in science and technology involved some significant events, listed below.

Image dissector

An image dissector, also called a dissector tube, is a video camera tube in which photocathode emissions create an "electron image" which is then scanned to produce an electrical signal representing the visual image. The term may apply specifically to a dissector tube employing magnetic fields to keep the electron image in focus, and an electron multiplier to scan the electrons. Dissectors were used only briefly in television systems before being replaced by the much more sensitive iconoscope during the 1930s.

Iconoscope first practical video camera tube to be used in early television cameras

The Iconoscope was the first practical video camera tube to be used in early television cameras. The iconoscope produced a much stronger signal than earlier mechanical designs, and could be used under any well-lit conditions. This was the first fully electronic system to replace earlier cameras, which used special spotlights or spinning disks to capture light from a single very brightly lit spot.

Charles Paulson Ginsburg was an American engineer and the leader of a research team at Ampex which developed one of the first practical videotape recorders.

The invention of the television was the work of many individuals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Individuals and corporations competed in various parts of the world to deliver a device that superseded previous technology. Many were compelled to capitalize on the invention and make profit, while some wanted to change the world through visual and audio communication technology.

Kálmán Tihanyi Hungarian engineer

Kálmán Tihanyi was a Hungarian physicist, electrical engineer and inventor. One of the early pioneers of electronic television, he made significant contributions to the development of cathode ray tubes (CRTs), which were bought and further developed by the Radio Corporation of America, and German companies Loewe and Fernseh AG. He invented and designed the world's first automatic pilotless aircraft in Great Britain.

Boris Pavlovich Grabovsky was a Soviet engineer who invented a first fully electronic TV set that was demonstrated in 1928. In 1925, one of the pioneers of television Boris Rosing advised and helped him apply for a patent of a fully electronic TV set called Telefot.

Elmer William Engstrom American engineer

Elmer William Engstrom was an American electrical engineer and corporate executive prominent for his role in the development of television.

Albert Macovski is an American Professor (Emeritus) at Stanford University, known for his many innovations in the area of imaging, particularly in the medical field. He has over 150 patents and has authored over 200 technical articles. His innovations include the single-tube color camera and real-time phased array imaging for ultrasound. He has also made significant contributions to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerized axial tomography, and digital radiography. His honors include Founding Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, the IEEE Zworykin Award, and the gold medal of the International Society of Magnetic Resonance. He graduated from NYU Poly.

Jan Aleksander Rajchman was a Polish electrical engineer and computer pioneer.

Otto H. Schade was a noted television pioneer, best known for his work on evaluating the gradation, graininess and sharpness in film and television images, and his aperture theory that mathematically modeled the system performance of photographic lenses, films, television tubes, and electrical circuits.

Dalton H. Pritchard, was one of the early color television systems pioneers, working at RCA Laboratories.

Fred Bechly American electrical engineer

Fred Lorin Bechly (1924–2004) was an American electrical engineer and inventor in the field of color television broadcasting.

Semyon Isidorovich Kataev (1904-1991) was a Soviet scientist and inventor in the field of television and radio electronics. He earned a doctorate of Technical Sciences (1951), became a Professor (1952) and was awarded Honored Worker of Science and Technology (1968).


  1. The birth year has been recently revised from 1889 to 1888 according to the metric book of Sretenskaya Church of the town of Murom (now in the archive of Murom ZAGS). The metric book was brought into attention by V. Ya. Chernushev, the birth date of Zworykin was revised by K. M. Velembovskaya, journal "Новая и новейшая история" (Modern and Contemporary History) № 5 2009.
  2. 1 2 "Vladimir Zworykin, Television Pioneer, Dies at 92". New York Times. August 1, 1982. Retrieved 2008-04-27. Dr. Vladimir Kosma Zworykin, a Russian-born scientist whose achievements were pivotal to the development of television, died Thursday at the Princeton (N.J.) Medical Center. He was 94 years old and lived in Princeton. Zworykin, a naturalized American citizen who was also credited with spearheading development of the electron ...
  3. IEEE Global History Network (2011). "Vladimir Zworykin Oral History". IEEE History Center. Retrieved 8 July 2011.
  4. 1 2 3 Abramson, Albert (1995). Zworykin, Pioneer of Television. University of Illinois Press. ISBN   0-252-02104-5.
  5. 1 2 Vladimir Zworykin (November 13, 1928) [filed 1925]. "Television System". Patent No. 1,691,324. United States Patent Office. Retrieved 2009-07-28.
  6. 1 2 3 Zworykin, V. K., Television System, United States Patent Office, Patent No. 2,022,450, 1935-11-26, retrieved 2010-05-10.
  7. 1 2 3 Zworykin, V. K., Television System, United States Patent Office, Patent No. 2,141,059, 1938-12-20, retrieved 2009-06-03.
  8. Schatzkin, Paul (2002), The Boy Who Invented Television. Silver Spring, Maryland: Teamcom Books, pp. 111-8. ISBN   1-928791-30-1.
  9. Abramson, Albert. The History of Television, 1880 to 1941. (1987). Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., p. 209 ISBN   0-89950-284-9.
  10. A. A. CAMPBELL SWINTON (1908) Distant Electric Vision (first paragraph)
  11. A. A. CAMPBELL SWINTON (1908) Distant Electric Vision (pdf)
  12. https://archive.org/details/StoryofT1956 2.18-6.00
  13. https://archive.org/details/StoryofT1956 8.25-8.40
  14. 1 2 de Vries, M. J.; de Vries, Marc; Cross, Nigel; Grant, Donald P. (1993). Design methodology and relationships with science, Número 71 de NATO ASI series. Springer. p. 222. ISBN   978-0-7923-2191-0 . Retrieved 2010-01-15.
  15. "Married". Time. November 26, 1951. Retrieved 2008-04-27. Vladimir Zworykin, 62, Russian-born, Russian-trained physicist, the "father of television," who developed the iconoscope (eye) of the TV camera in 1923, now laments: "We never dreamed of Howdy Doody on Television — we always thought television would find its highest value in science and industry"; and Katherine Polevitzky, 62, Russian-born professor of bacteriology at the University of Pennsylvania; both for the second time; in Burlington, New Jersey.
  16. Restelli, Steve. "1951 Dr.Zworykin Television Inventor Weds Dr. Katherine Polevitzky". framemaster.tripod.com.
  17. International Federation for Medical and Biological Engineering
  18. "Katherine Zworykin". Fold3.
  19. "Method of and apparatus for producing images of objects".
  20. "IEEE Morris N. Liebmann Memorial Award Recipients" (PDF). IEEE . Retrieved March 14, 2011.
  21. "Franklin Laureate Database - Howard N. Potts Medal Laureates". Franklin Institute. Archived from the original on May 2, 2014. Retrieved March 13, 2011.
  22. 1 2 3 "Vladimir Kosma Zworykin (American engineer and inventor)". Encyclopædia Britannica. 1982-07-29. Retrieved 2013-12-07.
  23. "The Eduard Rhein Ring of Honor Recipients". Eduard Rhein Foundation. Archived from the original on July 18, 2011. Retrieved February 5, 2011.
  24. "Awards". International Federation for Medical and Biological Engineering . Retrieved May 31, 2011.
  25. Restelli, Steve. "VLADIMIR K. ZWORYKIN: DIPLOMAS, CERTIFICATES, HONORS". framemaster.tripod.com.
  26. "Zvorykin-Muromets". IMDb .
  27. "The place of Russian emigration in US science and technology". 15 December 2016.
  28. Anatoly Bezkorovainy (2008). All Was Not Lost: Journey of a Russian Immigrant from Riga to Chicagoland. AuthorHouse. p. 457. Retrieved August 15, 2017.
  29. "Hall of Fame". 20 June 2015.

Further reading