What Is This New Fangled Tee Vee?

Many people made something having to do with TV. Arguably the Nazis were the first to introduce television programs. Oy. (You can see their earliest shows in the documentary here.) Yet in 1884 (that’s right) Paul Nipkow, a German engineer developed a rotating-disc technology to transmit pictures over wire. He discovered television’s scanning principle, but others contributed to TV’s development.1926 marked an actual broadcast from Scotland. 1937 saw the founding of the BBC, credited as the first TV service. In 1939, President Roosevelt’s speech opening the New York World’s Fair: World of Tomorrow, was the earliest United States broadcast, which launched the TV era and the promise of jobs in a new American industry, as this 1939 advertisement promises.

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2 thoughts on “What Is This New Fangled Tee Vee?

  1. Southall

    You are a great design journalist, but as an historian, may I add that following the Nipkow disk, which you accurately place to 1884, that active investigation of television began in the late teens and was crudely demonstrated by 1925. The “popular science” fascination with it began then and resulted in some amazing colorful magazine covers and other artwork throughout the 20s and 30s.
    Farnsworth had demonstrated the superior electronic version y 1929, and Zworykin and others further developed (but did not invent) it. Herbert Hoover as Secretary of Commerce saw a demonstration of it by AT&T in 1927. Acceptable images were emerging by 1933-37, including some broadcasting. The BBC was especially aggressive in having regular service (with a tiny audience) as early as 1935. (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7nRZ85OWr-8 and ​https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOQCA0r1PZk​ among many others; watch first two minutes o each.)
    Yet you are quite correct that Germany was eager to develop the system as well, and also had regular programming by the late 1930s, with TVs mostly in public salons and taverns. I would agree that the documentary you link to about the Nazi TV service is excellent and worth watching.

    As for the famous 1939 address by Roosevelt at the opening of the NY Fair, it did mark a developmental point in Sarnoff/RCA’s carefully orchestrated PR campaign to write the history of television as theirs alone but this was certainly not the case. The role of Farnsworth in particular was buried by them, even though RCA was bitterly forced to buy a patent license from him just before that 1939 occasion.