This edited article about inventors originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 889 published on 3 February 1979.
What could a man build with an old tea chest, a biscuit box, darning needles, the lenses of old bicycle lamps, electric motors due for the scrap heap, lengths of wire and assorted odds and ends?
The people of Hastings, where these purchases were made in the early 1920s, did not know and certainly would never have guessed that it was the raw material for the world’s first practical television transmitter – and that the tousle-headed, bespectacled young Scotsman John Logie Baird who bought them was to become famous as the pioneer of TV.
Baird was a sick man. He had come to Hastings on the south coast for his health, despite his lack of money. But he was determined to achieve the transmission of vision by radio.
Although others before him had established some basic principles of picture transmission, it was Baird who put them into practice.
How do you send a picture through the air? You send it, strip by strip, in the form of radio signals, and at the other end you have a receiver, like our modern televisions, which decodes these signals strip by strip and turns them into a picture again.
For months, Baird worked alone in his attic laboratory, struggling to transmit a recognisable image. In October, 1925, the breakthrough came: he successfully transmitted a picture of a ventriloquist’s dummy from one end of his apparatus to a receiver elsewhere in his room. Baird had proved to himself that it could be done – now all that was necessary was to convince the public.
On 27th January, 1926, at the famous London store of Selfridges, John Logie Baird gave the first public demonstration of television. A blurred image of a human face was transmitted, but it was strong enough to be recognised. Television had arrived.
But there was rather a sad end to Baird’s pioneering work. The system that he had invented was too crude to give the perfect reproduction we expect today, and ultimately another system was adopted by the BBC and other broadcasting organisations of the world.