Friday, 31 May 2013

Men of Yore: Philo Farnsworth

This is another in a series of posts about men from history who have either achieved great things in one form or another by pushing boundaries: either in themselves or in society or science or exploration of some form.  Boundary pushing and growth is what men do, it's their nature: to grow and push outwards.  We, as men, are the frontiers men, the first to discover/uncover new territory, in a metaphysical sense (i.e. including both material and the immaterial) that is later colonised and 'civilised' by the rest of humanity. 

It is also partly intended to show images, be they paintings, statues or photographs of the countenaces of men of yore.  Because, quite frankly, many men wear the countenances of women these days: smiling, smirking, cooing, rolling their eyes, looking smug etc.  It's a sign of the times, and by showing some images of men from the past, I hope to show some modern men why looking surly, frowning and giving hard-ball stares at people is something to do, something to practice.

Philo Farnsworth, 1939 (aged 33)

Philo Taylor Farnsworth (August 19, 1906 – March 11, 1971) was an American inventor and television pioneer.[2] Although he made many contributions that were crucial to the early development of all-electronic television, he is perhaps best known for inventing the first fully functional all-electronic image pickup device (video camera tube), the "image dissector", the first fully functional and complete all-electronic television system, and for being the first person to demonstrate such a system to the public.[3][4] Farnsworth developed a television system complete with receiver and camera, which he produced commercially in the firm of the Farnsworth Television and Radio Corporation, from 1938 to 1951.[5][6]
In later life, Farnsworth invented a small nuclear fusion device, the Farnsworth–Hirsch fusor, or simply "fusor", employing inertial electrostatic confinement (IEC). Although not a practical device for generating nuclear energy, the fusor serves as a viable source of neutrons.[7] The design of this device has been the acknowledged inspiration for other fusion approaches including the Polywell reactor concept in terms of a general approach to fusion design.[8] Farnsworth held 165 patents, mostly in radio and television.

Early Life
Philo T. Farnsworth was born August 19, 1906, the eldest of five children[9] of Lewis Edwin Farnsworth and Serena Amanda Bastian, a Mormon couple then living in a small log cabin built by Lewis's father in a place called Indian Creek[citation needed] near Beaver, Utah. The family moved to a farm in Rigby, Idaho, in 1918, where Lewis supplemented his farming income by hauling freight with his horse-drawn wagon. Philo was excited to find his new home was wired for electricity, with a Delco generator providing power for lighting and farm machinery. He was a quick study in mechanical and electrical technology, repairing the troublesome generator, and upon finding a burned out electric motor among some items discarded by the previous tenants, proceeding to rewind the armature and convert his mother's hand-powered washing machine into an electric-powered one
He asked his high school science teacher, Justin Tolman, for advice about an electronic television system he was contemplating. He provided the teacher with sketches and diagrams covering several blackboards to show how it might be accomplished electronically. He asked his teacher if he should go ahead with his ideas, and he was encouraged to do so

Philo worked while his sister Agnes, the older of the two, took charge of the family home and the second-floor boarding house (with the help of a cousin then living with the family). The Farnsworths later moved into half of a duplex, with family friends the Gardners moving into the other side when it became vacant.[14] Philo developed a close friendship with Cliff Gardner, who shared Farnsworth's interest in electronics. The two moved to Salt Lake City to start a radio repair business.[11]
The business failed and Gardner returned to Provo. But Farnsworth remained in Salt Lake City, and through enrollment in a University of Utah job-placement service became acquainted with Leslie Gorrell and George Everson, a pair of San Francisco philanthropists who were then conducting a Salt Lake City Community Chest fundraising campaign.[15][16]
They agreed to fund Farnsworth's early television research with an initial $6,000 in backing,[17] and set up a laboratory in Los Angeles for Farnsworth to carry out his experiments.
A few months after arriving in California, Farnsworth was prepared to show his models and drawings to a patent attorney who was nationally recognized as an authority on electrophysics. Everson and Gorrell agreed that Farnsworth should apply for patents for his designs, a decision which proved crucial in later disputes with RCA.
On September 7, 1927, Farnsworth's image dissector camera tube transmitted its first image, a simple straight line, to a receiver in another room of his laboratory at 202 Green Street in San Francisco.[17] Pem Farnsworth recalled in 1985 that her husband broke the stunned silence of his lab assistants by saying, "There you are — electronic television!”
Farnsworth Television and Radio Corporation was purchased by International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) in 1951. During his time at ITT, Farnsworth worked in a basement lab known as “the cave” on Pontiac Street in Fort Wayne. From there he introduced a number of breakthrough concepts, including a defense early warning signal, submarine detection devices, radar calibration equipment and an infrared telescope. “Philo was a very deep person – tough to engage in conversation because he was always thinking about what he could do next,” said Art Resler, an ITT photographer who documented Farnsworth’s work in pictures.[6] One of Farnsworth's most significant contributions at ITT was the PPI Projector, an enhancement on the iconic "circular sweep" radar display, which allowed safe air traffic control from the ground. This system developed in the 1950s was the forerunner of today’s air traffic control systems.[1]
In addition to his electronics research, ITT management agreed to nominally fund Farnsworth's nuclear fusion research.
Memorials and legacy
In a 1996 videotaped interview by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, available on YouTube,[56] Elma Farnsworth recounts Philo's change of heart about the value of television, after seeing how it showed man walking on the moon, in real time, to millions of viewers:
Interviewer: The image dissector was used to send shots back from the moon to earth.
Elma Farnsworth: Right.
Interviewer: What did Phil think of that?
Elma Farnsworth: We were watching it, and, when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, Phil turned to me and said, "Pem, this has made it all worthwhile." Before then, he wasn't too sure.


I think that it's important to note the encouragement and freedoms that he was shown in his youth which fostered his enthusiasm for electrical and mechanical appliances: when he was allowed to repair faulty appliances by his parents, and was encouraged to pursue his dreams of constructing a television system by his teacher.

Check out some of the other entries from the 'Men of Yore' series:


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