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John Logie Baird (1888-1946)




J. L. Baird and his television apparatus 

So, who was John Logie Baird?

John Logie Baird was born on 14th August 1888 at Helensburgh, Scotland. He was the youngest of four children of Jessie and the Reverend John Baird.

He does not seem to have been particularly academic at school, having variously been described as "very slow" and "timid". At home he appears to have been very different. He was able to construct a home telephone system and use a petrol-driven generator to make an electric light system for his parents.

What sort of education did John Logie Baird receive?

We know from his school that he was not particularly well thought of.

Not to be deterred, Baird enrolled in 1906 on a diploma course in electrical engineering at a technical college in Glasgow, with the hope of using this to gain entry to Glasgow University to study for a B.Sc. degree.

What happened next?

After studying science at Glasgow, John went to work for an electrical company, but soon tired of the routine nature of work and left to become an inventor working on ways of sending pictures by radio. It has been suggested that he had done some work on this whilst still a student.

At Hastings, Sussex, England, Baird began to assemble what to the onlooker appeared to be junk - things such as scrap electric motors, broken radios, old lenses and even hat boxes.

Early in 1924, he managed to turn these things into a piece of equipment that allowed him to send a picture a distance of less than three metres.

It seems that after this success, Baird accidentally touched a live wire and almost killed himself. This resulted in his been asked to leave his attic room in Hastings.

How did Baird continue?

John Logie Baird moved to Soho, London, where somehow he came to meet Gordon Selfridge, who owned a famous department store. Selfridge offered Baird twenty five pounds a week to demonstrate his machine to customers.

Baird had a cardboard disc, which had a ring of holes in a near spiral, rotating at eighteen turns per second, placed in front of the head of a dummy. The light reflected from the face was focussed onto a photo-electric cell after passing through the holes in the spinning disc. The cell conducted strong or weak electric current dependent on the brightness of the light coming fromthe part of the face being scanned. This was connected to a neon lamp, in front of which was a disc like the first, which spun at the same speed. This lamp then glowed, brightly or dimly and an image of the face was reformed as the light passed through the holes in the spinning disc. Customers who were looking through this spinning disc then saw the picture of the dummy's head.

On 2nd October, Baird had improved his equipment so that he was able to use a real person instead of a dummy. The first person to be televised was William Taynton.

In January 1926, Baird was able to demonstrate his invention at the Royal Institution; the apparatus is now in the Science Museum in London.

What was happening elsewhere?

Other countries were carrying out experiments with television. The BBC, who had initially not wanted to enter this new broadcasting medium was forced to start transmissions using the Baird system, which it did on a regular daily basis in 1936. It stopped using this system in 1937 and began using an American system, invented by Vladimir Zworykin.

The BBC did not use the television service during World War II (1939-1945), but resumed soon afterwards, using the more modern electronic 405-line system of EMI-Marconi, as opposed to the mechanically scanned 240-line system developed by Baird.

What happened to Baird?

John Logie Baird died on 14th June 1946 at the age of 58, leaving a widow, Margaret, whom he married in 1931, and two children, Diana and Malcolm. Despite the impact of television, he was not rich and did not survive to see the rapid spread of television throughout the world.