John Logie Baird

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Engineers and inventors

Bust of John Logie Baird in Helensburgh.
Bust of John Logie Baird in Helensburgh.

John Logie Baird ( August 13, 1888 – June 14, 1946) was a Scottish engineer, who is best known as the inventor of the first working electromechanical television system.

Birth and education

Baird was born in Helensburgh, Argyll, Scotland. He was educated at Larchfield School (now part of Lomond School), Helensburgh; the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College (which later became the University of Strathclyde); and the University of Glasgow. His degree course was interrupted by World War I and he never graduated.

Television experiments

Although the development of television was the result of work by many inventors, Baird is one of its foremost pioneers. He is generally credited with being the first person to produce a live, moving television image in halftones by reflected light, among other major advances he later made in the field. Baird achieved this, where earlier experimenters had failed, by obtaining a better photoelectric cell and improving the signal conditioning from the photocell and the video amplifier.

In his first attempts to invent television, Baird experimented with the Nipkow disk, and demonstrated to the Radio Times that a semi-mechanical analogue television system was possible with the transmission of moving silhouette images, such as his fingers wiggling, in his London laboratory in February 1924. Baird gave the first public demonstration of moving silhouette images by television at Selfridges department store in London in a three-week series of demonstrations beginning March 25, 1925.

On October 2, 1925, John Logie Baird was successful in transmitting in his laboratory the first television picture with halftones: the head of a ventriloquist's dummy, in a 30-line vertically scanned image, at 5 pictures per second. Baird went downstairs and fetched an office boy, 20-year-old William Edward Taynton, to see what a human face would look like. He became the first person to be televised in full tonal range.

First public demonstrations

Baird repeated the transmission for members of the Royal Institution and a reporter from The Times on January 26, 1926 in his laboratory at 22 Frith Street in the Soho district of London. By this time he had improved the scan rate to 12.5 pictures per second. It was the world's first demonstration of a true television system, one that could broadcast moving images with tone graduation.

He demonstrated the world's first colour transmission on July 3, 1928, using scanning discs at the transmitting and receiving ends with three spirals of apertures, each spiral with filters of a different primary colour; and three light sources at the receiving end, with a commutator to alternate their illumination. That same year he also demonstrated stereoscopic television. In 1932 he was the first to demonstrate ultra-short wave transmission.


In 1927 Baird transmitted a long-distance television signal over 438 miles of telephone line between London and Glasgow. He then set up the Baird Television Development Company Ltd, which in 1928 made the first transatlantic television transmission from London to Hartsdale, New York and also made the first television programme for the BBC. He televised the first live transmission of the Epsom Derby in 1931. He demonstrated a theatre television system, with a screen two feet by five feet, in 1930 at the London Coliseum, Berlin, Paris, and Stockholm. By 1939 he had improved his theatre projection system to televise a boxing match on a screen 15 feet by 12 (4.6 by 3.7 m).

From 1929-1935, the BBC broadcast television programmes using the 30-line Baird system. In late 1936 the BBC began alternating Baird 240-line transmissions with EMI's electronic scanning system which had recently been improved to 405-lines after a merger with Marconi. The BBC ceased broadcasts with the Baird system in early 1937.

Baird's television systems were replaced by the electronic television system developed by the newly formed company EMI- Marconi under Isaac Shoenberg, which had access to patents developed by Vladimir Zworykin and RCA. Similarly, Philo T. Farnsworth's electronic Image Dissector camera was available to Baird's company via a patent-sharing agreement; however, the Image Dissector camera was found to be lacking in light sensitivity.

Baird made many contributions to the field of electronic television after mechanical systems took a backseat to electronic systems. In 1939 he showed colour television using a cathode ray tube in front of which revolved a disc fitted with colour filters, a method taken up by CBS and RCA in the United States. On August 16, 1944 he gave the world's first demonstration of a fully electronic colour television display. His 600-line colour system used triple interlacing, using six scans to build each picture. During 1944 he persuaded British authorities to make plans to adopt his proposed 1000-line Telechrome electronic colour system as the new post-war broadcast standard. The picture quality on this system would have been comparable to today's HDTV. The Hankey Committee's plan lost all momentum partly due to the challenges of post-war reconstruction. The monochrome 405-line standard remained in place for three decades until the introduction of the 625-line system in 1964 and ( PAL) colour in 1967.

Other inventions

Some of Baird's early inventions were not up to standard. In his twenties he tried to create diamonds by heating graphite and shorted out Glasgow's electricity supply. Not long afterwards Baird perfected a glass razor; it was completely rust resistant, but it shattered. Inspired by pneumatic tyres he had a go at pneumatic shoes, but his prototype contained semi-inflated balloons which burst. He also invented a thermal undersock, which was actually a mild success.

Baird's numerous other developments demonstrate his particular talent at invention. He developed, in 1928, a primitive video recording device, which he dubbed Phonovision. The system consisted of a Phonodisc, which was a 78rpm record that could play a 30-line video signal. His other developments were in fibre-optics, radio direction finding, infrared night viewing and radar. There still remain, however, questions about his exact contributions to the development of radar, for his wartime defence projects have never been officially acknowledged by the British government. According to Malcolm Baird, his son, what is known is that in 1926 Baird filed a patent for a device that formed images from reflected radio waves, a device remarkably similar to radar, and that he was in correspondence with the British government at the time. Much of the information regarding Baird's work in this area is just beginning to emerge.

There is a working model of the Baird televisor in the London Science Museum.


From December 1944 until his death in 1946, Baird lived at a house in Station Road, Bexhill On Sea, immediately north of the station itself. Baird died in Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex, England in 1946 after suffering a stroke in February of that year.

TV now spans the globe and is the world's most popular form of entertainment, offering multiple channels covering all sorts of subjects.

In the Channel 5 programme Don't Get Me Started, aired on 29 August 2006, presenter Selina Scott complained about the falling standards of British TV with such shows as Big Brother and other "reality" programmes. Malcolm Baird said in an interview that had his father known how TV would turn out in sixty years time, he would have dropped it and turned to something else.

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