San Francisco

Family of Television Inventor Criticizes Decision to Remove Statue in Washington D.C

The Bay Area family of television inventor Philo Farnsworth is blasting the decision by Utah's State Legislature to replace his statue in Statuary Hall in Washington D.C. with a statue of Martha Hughes Cannon, the nation’s first female state senator.

Farnsworth, a native of Utah, conducted the first successful electronic television transmission in a laboratory in San Francisco on September 7th, 1927. Supporters in Utah installed his statue in the nation's capitol in 1990 following a long campaign to honor its famous son. Each state chooses two statues to represent it in Statuary Hall.

Utah State Senator Todd Weiler proposed legislation to replace Farnsworth with Cannon to celebrate the upcoming 100th anniversary in 2020 of the passage of the 19th amendment which granted women the right to vote. The legislation passed both houses in the state capitol and was signed by the governor.

"I said all along this resolution to put her in Congress in Statuary Hall," Weiler said, "it was not an anti-Philo Farnsworth resolution, it was a pro-Martha Hughes Cannon."

But that sentiment was lost on Farnsworth family members who live in Marin County. His grandson Philo Krishna Farnsworth in San Rafael said the family was never contacted by the state in advance of the vote and was caught off-guard by the move.

"It's an unexpected stab in the back," said Krishna Farnsworth, "and tarnishment of his legacy and the remembrance of his accomplishments for sure."

Cannon was the fourth of six wives of her polygamist Mormon husband whom she defeated in 1896 to win the senator job. Weiler said the addition of her statue in Washington D.C. would be a fitting tribute to her accomplishments.

"She played a big role in the woman's suffrage movement," Weiler said. "She almost single-handedly got Utah to recognize the right to vote for women."

Farnsworth's grandson said he applauded Cannon's achievements but felt his grandfather's contributions had a larger global impact.

Joe Rosato Jr./NBC Bay Area

"You're taking the spot of someone who, in our opinion," Farnsworth said, "has influenced every person who has walked the face of the earth for 75 years."

The elder Farnsworth never capitalized on his invention because of legal disputes and expired patents. His grandson said the family has struggled to get him the recognition he deserves from the scientific community. The removal of the statue, he said, would just be the latest slight.

"He struggled mightily with the fact he wasn't recognized in the scientific community," Farnsworth said.

Weiler said Utah hasn’t yet decided on what it will do with Farnsworth's statue once it's removed. He cited the Smithsonian Institute or the National Science Center as fitting venues for the statue although plans to move it to neither are currently in the works. He also left open the possibility Utah could reinstall Farnsworth in Statuary Hall after ten years, per federal rules.

Weiler said ultimately, the brouhaha over the statue’s replacement has increased awareness of Farnsworth in Utah, especially among school children.

"I think the family should be proud of the fact that they have such a distinguished ancestor," Weiler said, "that Utah celebrated not only for 30 years in Washington D.C. but also in our state capitol and we’re going to continue to do that."

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