Hawes Mechanical Television Archive by James T. Hawes, AA9DT
Baird Did Not Invent Television: FAQs

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QUESTION. What do you mean by the "Baird publicity machine"? There is no "machine."

ANSWER. Wrong. The publicity machine includes everyone who publishes the false claim that Baird invented television. There must be hundreds of Web sites and books that support the Baird apocrypha. Such publication by print, electronic media, word or other means ignores contrary history.

As promotion, such publication is mere hype. Hype serves a selfish cause, such as building prestige, brand identity or profit. We expect hype to appear in say, an advertisement, a parochial biography or a sideshow. As history, such publication is a more serious matter. Here, abuse of publicity verges on propaganda, because the intent is to distort the truth.

QUESTION. Would you attack Alexander Graham Bell in the same way?

ANSWER. This is an ad hominem assault, and not really a question. I don't attack Bell or Baird. Anyway, Alexander Graham Bell isn't the issue. Let's stay with Baird's technology and keep off the personal level.

QUESTION. Webster's Dictionary defines invention as "contrivance of that which has not existed." Webster defines television as "broadcasting visual images of stationary or moving objects." Don't dictionary definitions of "invent" and "television" make Baird the inventor of television?

ANSWER. No. History isn't a process of choosing definitions so that a particular person becomes an inventor. Even if that were so, the dictionary doesn't canonize inventors. I'm getting tired of this ploy of the Baird flaks. It always begins by defining television. If the first definition doesn't convince, Baird zealots slyly replace it. The second definition is proprietary. It far more strictly favors Baird. In later questions, you'll find that second definition.

Besides, the definitions above don't point to Baird in particular. For example, here are some television inventions that satisfy your definition. Both inventions came before Baird demonstrated his television apparatus...

  • Georges Rignoux had a system that could transmit and receive images of letters. That was in 1914.

  • In 1919, H.K. Sandell patented a system that could transmit and receive halftone pictures.

These men aren't the first television contributors. Yet certainly by their time, transmission of still images had been going on for many years. Development of telephotography and press photos started before the mid-1800s. By the time of Baird's contributions, newspaper wirephotos were an established technology. By that time too, several engineers had experimented with mechanical and CRT motion displays. Dieckmann, Braun and Rosing come to mind. Also Campbell-Swinton had published his description of a complete, electronic television system.

QUESTION. No one has ever claimed that Baird invented all key aspects of television.

ANSWER. Oh? You just did. See your question above.

Since you're changing tack, let's go over again what Baird didn't invent. Check out my page Baird_not.

QUESTION. Wasn't JL Baird the first to construct a device to successfully transmit recognizable images of moving objects?

ANSWER. No. Many people contributed to television. Many people constructed devices for the purpose of transmission. Many were successful, including Baird, Jenkins, Sanabria and Ives. There were others in the US, Europe and Asia.

Baird's invention incorporated inventions of others. The mechanics, including the Nipkow and Weiller scanners, come from the nineteenth century. The electronics include de Forest triodes, Elster and Geitel pickups, Moore lamps and so forth. These come from the early twentieth century. All of these inventions predate Baird's involvement with television. Even if they didn't, Baird didn't participate in inventing them. Since Baird used whole assemblies such as scanners and amplifiers, we can't say that he invented a whole television device. That's true whether the device was "successful" or not. By the way, you don't say what you mean by "successfully."

Anyway, the definition of television above doesn't match the earlier one that you gave. I mean the definition from Webster. This mismatch is trickery on your part. When the facts fail to prove anything, Baird promoters usually resort to such dishonesty. By doing so, you've hurt your credibility.

QUESTION. In the 20s, virtually no scientists were working on TV. No one except Baird could generate recognizable television pictures for 14 months.

ANSWER. Here you redefine television as a means of generating "recognizable television pictures." This redefinition is disingenuous. You've substituted this television definition for your earlier definition from Webster. You also don't explain what you mean by "recognizable." On the time element, the twenties must have run for about 120 months. Which 14 months are you talking about?

About the scientists, you're wrong. Worldwide, many scientists had worked on television for decades. The first television history came out in 1911, before Baird's work. The authors of the book containing this history were Arthur Korn and Bruno Glatzel. See Abramson, page 41. Below, off the top of my head, are a few early TV scientists...

• Edmund d'Albe • Edouard Belin • Karl Braun • Alan Campbell-Swinton
• Max Dieckmann • Herbert Ives • Charles Jenkins • John Hays Hammond
• Rudolf Hell • Arthur Korn • Maurice LeBlanc • Paul Nipkow
• Boris Rosing • U.A. Sanabria • Lazare Weiller • Marcel Belin

Besides, some laboratories of the time conducted television experiments in secret. For example, AT&T's experiments under Herbert Ives. Scientists and citizens outside AT&T had no way of knowing AT&T's progress. That is, except for what AT&T published. These facts didn't prevent Baird from promoting his so-called "firsts." We now know this: That by 1925, the AT&T system could reproduce faces in a full grayscale. See Abramson, pp. 73 to 82.

You suggest that other scientists' work depended on Baird. In some cases, that might be true. In others, certainly not. For instance, AT&T's efforts were independent. Baird, of course, copied the intermediate film system from AT&T. Baird's large-screen television efforts also occurred only after Ives' 1927 AT&T presentation.

Baird-centrism is myopic. The history of invention isn't single-stranded. Two inventors can simultaneously and separately invent the same device. When all the parts are on the shelf, simultaneous invention becomes both possible and likely. This was the case with 1920s television. Nipkow had provided the blueprint. In the nineteenth century, the entire mechanical scanner became available. Afterward, many inventors reduced it to practice. All the electronics and much of the theory arrived in the early twentieth century.

QUESTION. After Baird's demonstration, many individuals and corporations accelerated their television efforts or began development.

ANSWER. Yes, and many individuals and corporations maintained efforts before Baird's work made headlines. Worldwide, a lot of television activity had been going on for decades.

The point is that Baird isn't the source for earlier or parallel contemporary development. The electronics became available shortly after the turn of the twentieth century. All 1920s TV inventors had standard parts that they could use. In fact they had entire stock assemblies to use, copy and modify.

Your question overlooks the tidal wave of television invention after Alan Campbell-Swinton published his television ideas in 1908 and 1911. Of course, Swinton's ideas concern electronic television. Let's focus on early mechanical TV developments: You also ignore the surge of television invention after Paul Nipkow published his master television patent in 1884. Since Baird's work is a clear improvement on Nipkow's, your neglect of Nipkow is telling.

For more detail, see the previous answer.

QUESTION. Are you against the concept of individual inventors?

ANSWER. No. You misunderstand me.

Plagiarism is something I'm against. Those who use the inventions of others must acknowledge the use of others' work. Otherwise, "individual inventor" has a very unsavory meaning. Compound inventions such as television convey a special responsibility upon their inventors. An inventor in the television field is a contributor to a body of work. For example, there are many useful television patents. Like it or not, most of these inventions aren't Baird's.

Good patents disclose prior art that the new invention incorporates. A Baird patent must do the same. Without such disclosure, a patent might be contestable, invalid, or even fraudulent. As you can see, disclosure adds value and conveys credibility. Ignoring prior art has the opposite effect.

I don't think that Baird was a plagiarist. Still, the current revisionism casts Baird as the sole inventor of television. To accept this skewed notion, revisionists are declaring that Baird is a plagiarist. I prefer to remember him as a contributor to television. And an honorable man.

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