History of Television and Video:
The Early Pioneers

The fascinating history of Television and Video...!

From the earliest simple beginnings to the sophisticated medium that we know today its history is a long and interesting one!

Let's take a look at how the idea of being able to record and broadcast image and sound from a remote location (electronically) and have it appear on a screen at another distant location came into being...!

I'm sure that you'll agree that few things enrapture an audience more than pictures in motion... From the great epic motion pictures made in Hollywood to entertainment on your television or digital device screen to homemade videos of your kids birthday... people love to watch moving pictures with sound!

But... it's been film...not video... that has been the primary medium for motion pictures ever since Eadweard Muybridge first developed the Zoopraxiscope in 1879. However... a revolution has taken place and video has now emerged as not only the wave of the future...

But... is taking over the field of motion picture making and visual entertainment of all forms in the here  and now ! So… How is it that video has become "King"…?

Let's take a look at the history of television and video and some of the brilliant engineers and inventors that have brought this medium to the forefront in the production of "moving pictures with sound".

First... What is the Definition of "Video" and "Television"?...

Let's start out by taking a good look at the definition of these words... Video  and Television... We hear them all the time… What do they mean…? This is how they are defined:


(From the Latin verb "videre" meaning "I see" or "to see")


(From the Greek  tele- "to or at a distance" or "from afar" and Latin  vision "a seeing".)

1. It is the broadcasting of still or moving images to receivers that project a view of the images on a video screen. 

2. The process involved in broadcasting these images or the device receiving these broadcasts.

3.The field of Television itself.

4. It is the technology of electronically capturing, recording, processing, transmitting and reconstructing a sequence of still images representing scenes in motion. 


What Were the Early Pioneers of Television and Video Really Trying to Do by Inventing This Technology?

Well... How about definitions 1 and 2? We take them for granted these days but... In the beginning... those were exactly the things that the early pioneers of video and television had to try and figure out how to do!!  Well... They had to figure out... 

* How do you capture, record and process an image, at some remote location, then transmit and reconstruct it (with clarity) at another distant location?

That...  was the problem those early pioneers wanted to solve…! The problem of "how can we get a real-time remote view of a location from where we are?". How can we "be here" and "see" over "there"? 

Well… Those were the questions...  And at the turn of the 19th century several brilliant engineers started a quest to find the answer. Of course at the time…

  • Many people said that it couldn't be done!
  • That it was foolish…!
  • That people would never use it even if you could do it…!

But as we know today… it has been done and done brilliantly! That is what makes the history of television and video so interesting… So many things we use in our daily life revolves around this marvelous technology!

Since it is such a broad subject I'm not going to try to cover everything  that has to do with the history of television and video in these articles but i'll try to give you an appreciation for the genius that it took to invent and find ways to use this wonderful medium and the stories about the people who did it.

It's a very interesting story indeed…!

The 1st Big Breakthrough… The Cathode Ray Tube…

The invention of the cathode-ray tube was the key development in the quest to build a workable video system.

Video technology took a great leap forward to take advantage of the CRT (Cathode-Ray Tube) developed in 1897 by Karl Ferdinand Braun. With the advent of the CRT many engineers were now able theorized as to how to go about creating a working video system using this new technology.

One of the first men to actually use this technology and demonstrate a working video machine was the Russian scientist Boris Lvovich Rosing (1869-1933).

In 1907 he used a mechanical mirror-drum apparatus (as the camera) and a cathode-ray tube (as the receiver) to transmit black-and-white silhouettes of simple shapes to be displayed on the cathode ray tube.  The Rosing system was a good system but it was very limited in potential.

It did not produce "moving" images and the resolution was very poor but… He did prove that a system could be developed and It did set the stage for his pupils to later develop more advanced video technology in the form of all-electronic  video systems.

All-Electronic Video Systems… The Holy Grail of Early Video Research…

The real future of television and video rested in the hands of electrical engineers like Alan Archibald Campbell-Swinton (1863-1930) who were looking for ways to build all-electronic  video systems.

This was the Holy Grail of early video research…The finding of a way to build a workable  all-electronic video system!

Campbell-Swinton first theorized an all-electronic video system in 1908 but at the time gave very few details, due to one small problem... Much of the technology to actually build  this type of system had not been formulated yet!  The theory he put forth however was so intensely interesting to many engineers that they started to work from his ideas on constructing an all-electronic video system.

In 1911 he expanded on his 1908 proposal and set the stage for another leap in the formalization of video technology. This time he would really fan the flames of this pursuit of an all-electronic video system! He theorized that CRTs not only could be used as a receiver of images but they could also be modified to capture  images as well. He further theorized that the captured images could be turned into electrical signals that could be broadcast to another location.

In 1911 when Campbell-Swinton proposed the all-electronic video system with CRTs being used as both a receiver and the means of capturing the image the technology to build it (as in 1908) still  did not yet exist!  His hypothesis however again turned out to be brilliant and other engineers now vigorously took up the challenge of producing an all-electronic video system using CRTs as both the capturing device (the early video camera) and the receiver (the early video monitor). The stage had been set and the race was on…!

Over the next twenty five years... Research teams led by brilliant electrical engineers and inventors such as: Philo Farnsworth, Kalman Tihanyi and Vladimir Zworykin... Just to name a few… 

Theorized, developed and patented fully working all-electronic television and video systems based on Campbell-Swinton's original vision... And television and video as we  know it... was now  beginning to be born...!

The History of Television and Video Is a Fascinating Story…

Be sure to read the articles here on this site about the history of television and video... They are the story of how these brilliant engineers and inventors created this wonderful communication medium that we depend upon and that we've grown so accustomed to… What we take for granted today would not have been possible without their vision, creativity, research and development.

It's an interesting story… One that's fascinating to me… I hope you enjoy these articles about the early pioneers of television and video!

Their work has truly changed the world…!

Have fun...!  Dan (Editor)

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