The family and devotees of Philo Farnsworth, the inventor of electronic television, will gather at the site of his San Francisco laboratory on Thursday to mark the 90th anniversary of his first successful demonstration of his new invention.
The 11 a.m. gathering will take place at 202 Green Street, at the original building where Farnsworth’s laboratory was once located.
“We’re just going to give this guy Philo Farnsworth a little bit of recognition,” said Phil Savernick, a Los Angeles TV producer who collects Farnsworth artifacts, “90 years to the day that he changed the world.”
Farnsworth was 21 years old on September 7, 1927 when his camera tube “image dissector” successfully transmitted an image of a straight line to a receiver in another room of his San Francisco laboratory.
Farnsworth said he came up with the idea of transmitting an image of lines while harrowing plow lines in field in Idaho as a teenager. He was fourteen when he drew a version of his camera tube — an image that was later successfully used as proof of his discovery in a patent legal dispute with RCA.
“The important part of Philo Farnsworth’s story,” Savernick said, “is he came up with the idea for television when he was fourteen.”
Farnsworth’s story was somewhat buried by layers of history. In a bitter twist, his television patent expired before full-scale television production began — denying him a cut of the massive profits television would generate. It was a detail that haunted him.
“I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me, ‘boy you should be one of the wealthiest people in the world,’” said Farnsworth’s grandson, Philo Krishna Farnsworth. “The truth is we’re not. We grew up with little or no money.”
Krishna Farnsworth said the family has endeavored to trumpet the achievements of the elder Farnsworth, who went on to hold more than 300 other patents including ones for infra-red night vision devices and a baby incubator.
“So we’re talking about nearly a 40-year career of inventions,” Krishna Farnsworth said.
The building which once housed Farnsworth’s laboratory sits near San Francisco’s Embarcadero, where the majority of the Bay Area’s broadcast stations are located. A tech company now occupies the office space where Farnsworth and a small staff performed their experiments.
Savernick said he plans to bring Farnsworth’s original log book listing the day television was born to the anniversary gathering. He’ll also bring an original camera tube and other Farnsworth memorabilia.
“The real purpose of doing this,” Savernick said, “is so some 14 year old who has a crazy idea might look at this and go ‘whoa, maybe it isn’t so crazy.’”