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‘The damned thing works!’: How TV came to be, right here in Idaho

In last week’s Inside Idaho, we took a ride through the history of how the first chairlift was installed in Sun Valley. But, it’s not the only first in Idaho.

A commodity in houses worldwide, there is an average of 2.3 televisions in US households, according to a Residential Energy Consumption Survey. And the average American spends between two and five hours a day watching news, sports, and entertainment programs.

While it’s hard to imagine homes without them, the TV is a relatively new invention as it’s been around for less than 100 years. The first TV came to life because of a young Idaho boy who made his multi-billion-dollar idea come to life in the small Idaho town of Rigby in 1927.

Philo T. Farnsworth

Photo via Historytogo.Utah.gov.

The inventor, Philo T. Farnsworth, moved to Idaho from the small town of Beaver, Utah. At the time, Beaver didn’t have any electricity – making the story behind the invention even more interesting.

When Farnsworth and his family moved to Rigby, he was in awe of electricity and the idea that light could be turned off and on with the flip of a switch.

When he was twelve, he built the first electric washing machine for his family and he also built an electric motor.

[The first ski chairlift went up in Idaho. But it started with bananas β›·πŸŒ]

In high school, according to Utah’s I Love History website, “Farnsworth believed that he could transform electricity into pictures by controlling the speed and direction of fast-flying electrons.”

Farnsworth went on to attend Brigham Young University. But when his father died, he could no longer afford school and moved back to Rigby.

The TV Tube

photo via lovehistory.utah.gov

However, that didn’t stop him from still thinking about how to send images through the air.

Farnsworth eventually met a group of investors who gave him money to revisit and experiment on that same device he made in high school.

At the age of 21, in 1927, Farnsworth successfully transferred the first image. What was it? A simple line. His note to his friend – β€œTHE DAMNED THING WORKS!”.

For a full explanation of how the TV tube works, click here.

Credit where it’s due

The biggest challenge for Farnsworth was that while he was alive, he never received recognition from the public for inventing the TV. He passed away without much in the way of credit — or profit from his invention. That’s because, in 1927, John Logie Baird also had successful tests and was then recognized as the inventor of TV.

During his career, he had over 160 patents helping develop the radar, the infra-red night light, the electron microscope, the gastroscope, and the astronomical telescope – to name a few.

But then, in 1985, after Farnsworth has already passed away, students and teachers from Ridgemont Elementary School in Salt Lake City lobbied to have him recognized as the official inventor of television.

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Anna Daly - BoiseDev Reporterhttps://boisedev.com/author/annadaly/
Anna Daly is a reporter for BoiseDev. She's an Emmy-winning journalist, and a professor at the College of Western Idaho. Contact her at [email protected].

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