The Forgotten Inventor

September 7, 1927. “That’s it, folks.  We’ve done it! There you have electronic television!” And with that statement, the 21 year-old self-taught inventor Philo T. Farnsworth, the “Father of Television,” excitedly announced to a small group of scientists his breakthrough in electronics. It would forever change the landscape of communication and entertainment. And it was wizardry in action.

Through his “Image Dissector,” Farnsworth sent through the airwaves the image of a triangle, placed on a slide.  He then directed it be rotated. On the other side of his machine, on a receiving screen, the triangular image magically appeared. And upon his command, as fast as Harry Potter could say “expecto patronum,” the image of the triangle rotated.

Television was not invented by just one person or through a single process. Its building blocks–tracing back to the early 1800’s–touch upon many areas of science and engineering including, chemistry, electro-magnetism, mechanics, and countless other disciplines. A combination of stiff competition and scientific achievement gradually pushed forth its development.  But it was Farnsworth’s insistence to electronically transmit images through the air with his Image Dissector that significantly advanced the new medium. Yet Farnsworth did not stop there. He thereafter devoted many years of his life patenting processes that would improve upon his innovation that made televisions affordable, popular, and ubiquitous world-wide.

But despite Farnsworth’s great accomplishment at such a young age, along with the improvements he developed, he never achieved the fame and fortune he sought and truly deserved.  He was underfunded and drew enormous competition from rival inventors and powerful corporations. One such well-funded inventor, Vladimir K. Zworykin, worked for Westinghouse and then later the RCA Corporation.  Zworkin also laid claim to inventing the modern television. RCA, headed by its powerful President David (“General”) Sarnoff, engaged Farnsworth in rival lawsuits. Despite the fact that the U.S. Patent Office sided with Farnsworth, Farnsworth lost many of the lawsuits against the powerful RCA Corporation. Farnsworth did eventually settle out with RCA, but it was a pittance compared to the enormous profits that RCA made on its televisions. Nevertheless, Farnsworth spent many years trying to re-establish and lay claim to inventing the medium he devoted his life to, only to be beaten back by the wealthy and powerful Sarnoff.

Philo Farnsworth died at the age of 64 largely forgotten for his great contribution to the television industry. Interestingly, he appeared in 1957 on the television show I’ve Got a Secret where he revealed his “secret” to a stumped cast. For his part, Farnsworth received $80 and a carton of cigarettes.

You can watch his performance via this link:    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pKM4MNrB25o

Fittingly, in 1999, Time Magazine included Farnsworth in its “Time 100: Most Important People of the Century.”

1921. The ever-curious Philo drew this conceptual image of his image dissector for his high school science teacher, Justin Colman, when he was just 13.

1921. The ever-curious Philo drew this conceptual image of his image dissector for his high school science teacher, Justin Colman, when he was just 13. This drawing was used in some of the litigation to prove his patent claims.

Philo showing off his image dissector in 1927.

Philo showing off his image dissector in 1927.

Farnsworth's Appearance on I've Got a Secret in 1957.

Farnsworth’s appearance on I’ve Got a Secret in 1957.

David Sarnoff. Sarnoff was the powerful President of RCA which owned the National Broadcasting Company.

David Sarnoff. Sarnoff, who liked to be referred to as “General,” was the powerful President of RCA which owned the National Broadcasting Company.

 

Wedding Time

According the most authoritative source, i.e., the internet, the summer is the most popular season to tie the knot and to get married. And getting married in a big wedding this Saturday, practically in the middle of the summer, is Kyle Karches and my niece Beth Bange. Congratulations to the both of you! Family and friends will join in the festivities in Chicago.

There have been many other famous weddings in the past. Here are just a few:

 

May 1, 1967.  Elvis gets married to Priscilla Beaulieu, to the disappointment of his many female admirers. He was 32 and she, 21.

May 1, 1967. Elvis gets married to Priscilla Beaulieu, to the disappointment of his many female admirers. He was 32 and she, 21.

1947. The wedding cake for Princess Elizabeth (now Queen). Married for 67 years.

1947. The wedding cake for Princess Elizabeth (now Queen). Married for 67 years.

Spencer Tracy walks Elizabeth Taylor down the aisle in the movie "Father of the Bride.

Spencer Tracy walks Elizabeth Taylor down the aisle in the movie Father of the Bride.

April 19, 1956. Prince Ranier weds Grace Kelly.

April 19, 1956. Prince Ranier weds Grace Kelly.

1945. The Corleone Wedding. Many famous people attended this wedding, although many Senators and Judges could not attend but sent their congratulations (and gifts) any way.

1945. The Corleone Wedding. Many famous people attended this wedding, although many Senators and Judges could not attend but sent their congratulations (and their gifts) any way.

Summer Fun

As the pictures below demonstrate, everyone needs a little time off.

Circa 1910. Some teachers on a picnic having a good time during a summer break. Are they drinking liquor from a flask?

Circa 1910. Some teachers on a picnic having a good time during a summer break. Are they drinking liquor from a flask?

Circa Summer 1959. This is Castro playing baseball. Note the army boots. Allegedly, he was a decent baseball player.

Circa Summer 1959. This is Castro playing baseball. Note the army boots. Allegedly, he was a decent baseball player.

Circa Summer 1964. LBJ and HHH eating BBQ. Note Helen Thomas in the background on the right. Humphrey was probably wearing this "mini-me" outfit that Johnson typically provided to important guests he hosted on his ranch.

Circa Summer 1964. LBJ and HHH eating BBQ. Note Helen Thomas in the background on the right. Humphrey was probably wearing this “mini-me” outfit that Johnson typically provided to important guests he hosted on his ranch.

Late 1930's. Prince Edward (after being King) jumping around with his wife, Wallis Simpson.

Late 1930’s. Prince Edward (after being King) jumping around with his wife, Wallis Simpson.

Summer 1942. Ansel Adams took this photo of interned Japanese-Americans playing baseball. Adams was allowed to take these and other photos under highly controlled circumstances--no armed guards,  watchtowers,  or fences allowed to be seen--in any of the photographs that he published.

Summer 1942. Ansel Adams took this photo of interned Japanese-Americans playing baseball. Adams was allowed to take these and other photos under highly controlled circumstances–no armed guards, watchtowers, or fences allowed to be seen–in any of the photographs that he published.

Summer 1954. Eisenhower, on the left, loved to cook. Here he is with President Hoover bbqing up some steaks on his brazier.

Summer 1954. Eisenhower, on the left, loved to cook. Here he is with President Hoover bbqing up some steaks on his brazier grill.

1938. George VI "relaxing" on a slide. This picture was probably not taken during the summer, but I thought it was fun to include it.

1938. George VI “relaxing” on a slide. This picture was probably not taken during the summer, but I thought it was fun to include it.

Circa 1916. Despite logging in over 1000 rounds of golf during his Presidency, Woodrow Wilson was a terrible golfer, rarely breaking 100.

Circa 1916. Despite logging in over 1000 rounds of golf during his Presidency, Woodrow Wilson was a terrible golfer, rarely breaking 100.

Part Two:  Faster, Higher, Farther

May 24, 1883. On this day, the Brooklyn Bridge opened for traffic. Over 50,000 pedestrians made an inaugural crossing over the East River on the Great Bridge, which now joined the boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan.  It was an incredible engineering achievement.

From the drawing board, it would take 16 years to complete. It cost $15 Million dollars ($340 Million today).  At the time, and for many years thereafter, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world—50% longer than the next longest bridge—totaling nearly 6000 feet long over a water span of 1600 feet.  Each of its neo-gothic towers stretched well over 300 feet from foundation to top–taller than any other man-made structure in the world at the time.

Its structure and design was judged to be 6 times stronger than what it needed to be, allowing it to far outlast other bridges built during that time. The introduction of steel, instead of iron, gave the bridge added strength. (At that time, building metal bridges with iron was a standard practice.)   And it was built by men using picks, shovels, and hand tools.

The building of the Great Bridge had its problems. Several deaths occurred during its construction; workers had to grapple with a new sickness—known today as “the bends”—as they worked underwater inside air-sealed caissons; delays, political graft and cost overruns were commonplace; and a doubting public grew weary of whether the project was worth it.

But it was worth it. The critics were largely silenced after President Chester Arthur and many others first walked across the bridge 131 years ago today. And public confidence in the Bridge’s structure and strength grew, especially after P.T. Barnum, in one of Barnum’s publicity stunts, paraded Jumbo, a large elephant, who crossed the Bridge in its first year. The Bridge bolstered commerce in what would become the busiest city in the world. It joined two massive population centers. And it became a source of enormous local and national pride that such a massive structure could ever be built.

Below are some fairly rare photos of the bridge during and after construction.

Tower Construction

Tower Construction

1875 Photo showing the height of the towers compared to the Manhattan Landscape.

1875 Photo showing the height of the towers compared to the Manhattan Landscape.

Steel cables being attached.

Steel cables being attached.

Work in Progress

Work in Progress

1880 photo. Only three more years to complete!

1880 photo. Only three more years to complete!

Officials on a foot bridge.  Note the sign.

Officials on a foot bridge. Note the sign.

 

Pedestrians crossing May 24 1883.

Pedestrians crossing May 24 1883.

The Bridge today at sunset.

The Bridge today at sunset.

 

Faster Higher Farther

May 10, 1869. On this day, near the north shore of the Great Salt Lake, a large crowd had gathered to watch a significant historic moment. The crowd looked on as a symbolic “golden spike” was driven into a railroad tie. And with that, the nation’s first transcontinental railway system was completed.  Travel, commerce, and communications now spanned the entire continent, something that never had happened before on any continent in the history of mankind. It was a very big deal.

In America’s early days, explorers, traders, and entrepreneurs had long sought an easy passage to our West Coast. Indeed, Jefferson commissioned pathfinders Lewis and Clark to seek such a route via the waterways. But the northerly route Lewis and Clark had taken still involved travel over land, some of it very harsh, and winter travel along that route was especially inhospitable and impractical. Then, an innovation—the steam engine—ushered in the railroad industry. By the mid-nineteenth century, the development of a railroad infrastructure had quickly grown, especially along our eastern seaboard. Still, there was no major economic necessity or demand to travel westward to California, and, significantly, there was no “big money” to invest in such an infrastructure.

But in 1848, that changed. Gold was discovered in California. Gold seekers, merchants and Chinese immigrants from the Canton Province swarmed into California by the droves. Just two years later, California was admitted to the Union. Now, the United States government had legitimate assets to protect and a quicker route became a necessity. The alternatives—(1) sailing around the Cape of Good Horn in South America (5 months) or (2) boating down to Panama, crossing it via a 48-mile railway, and then boating up to California (35 days) or (3) traveling overland from St. Louis to San Francisco (30 days)—were not quick enough. In 1862, and despite the overwhelming distraction of the Civil War, Congress enacted and Lincoln signed an Act that financed a transcontinental land route to California via the rails.

By then, a central route was chosen for the railroad. On the eastern side, it would begin at Omaha, Nebraska (railroad lines from the East Coast then extended to Omaha) and it was to be built by the Union Pacific Railroad. On the western side, the Central Pacific Railroad would build a line beginning from Sacramento. The idea was to meet somewhere in the middle.

The work was hard. Armies of Irish and Chinese immigrants, some 20,000 workers in all, used shovels, sledgehammers, and sweat to build it. The summer heat was extreme and uncomfortable. And winter weather was abysmal, as workers had the double duty of shoveling both dirt and snow. Avalanches were not uncommon. And because dynamite had not yet been invented, workers used nitroglycerine—it was volatile and dangerous—causing many injuries and deaths. Working conditions were poor and the pay was low. But, they persevered.

The railway crossed deserts, bored through mountains, traversed rivers, and bridged gaps. The tracks crossed one river alone 31 times! At its highest, it reached nearly 8000 feet. In the end, it spanned an unbelievable 1900 miles.

At the time of its completion, it would become the longest railroad line in the world. The final hookup came at Promontory Point, Utah. Along with the building of the railroad, telegraph lines were also built. The telegraph operators signaled “DONE” when California Governor Leland Stanford (yes, Stanford University was named for him) drove in that final ceremonial spike.  A few months later, a line from Sacramento to San Francisco was completed which finally allowed coast-to-coast travel. In all, it took about 6 years to build a system that went from coast-to-coast.

Now, a trip from New York to San Francisco clocked in at about one week, down significantly from the old ways of traveling. Coast-to-coast travel, which cost $1000 in 1850, now cost $150 (still not cheap, but much less!). Most importantly, the railroad united the coasts, spurred incredible economic growth, and allowed for future development across the west. It was a great thing.

The pictures below show the building of this amazing achievement.

The Route. The Union Pacific portion (blue) ran 1087 miles. The Central Pacific segment (red) ran 690 miles.

The Route. The Union Pacific portion (blue) ran 1087 miles. The Central Pacific segment (red) ran 690 miles.

July 10, 1865. The first track is laid in Omaha as Union Pacific executives look on. It took several weeks to lay the first mile.

July 10, 1865. The first track is laid in Omaha as Union Pacific executives look on. It took several weeks to lay the first mile.

1866.  Bridges and tunnels had to be build. This is the North Platte Bridge over the Platte River.

1866. Bridges and tunnels had to be built. This is the North Platte Bridge over the Platte River.

Armies of Chinese immigrants dug, bored, and blasted their way through the Sierra Nevada mountains, across the desert, over rivers, and then eventually to the north shore of the Great Salt Lake.

Armies of Chinese immigrants dug, bored, and blasted their way through the Sierra Nevada mountains, across the desert, over rivers, and then eventually to the north shore of the Great Salt Lake.

1868: The Dale Creek Bridge, measured at 700 feet long, spanned a gorge near the railroad line's highest point in the Rockies.  The bridge was rendered obsolete about 30 years later in favor of a different route.

1868: The Dale Creek Bridge, measured at 700 feet long, spanned a gorge near the railroad line’s highest point in the Rockies. The bridge was rendered obsolete about 30 years later in favor of a different route.

Circa 1869. Central Pacific crews working somewhere in Nevada.

Circa 1869. Central Pacific crews working somewhere in Nevada.

1869.  This tunnel in Weber Canyon, Utah was one of the last hurdles the Union Pacific had to face towards Promonotory Summit.

1869. This tunnel in Weber Canyon, Utah was one of the last hurdles the Union Pacific had to face towards Promontory Summit.

May 10, 1869. The Golden Spike Ceremony at Promonotory Summit. No Chinese workers were allowed to be photographed in these photos.

May 10, 1869. The Golden Spike Ceremony at Promontory Summit. No Chinese workers were allowed to be photographed in these photos.

 

 

The Pride of Our Nation

May 2, 1939:  “I’m benching myself, Joe… for the good of the team.” With those words to New York Yankee manager Joe McCarthy, Lou Gehrig ended a spectacular run of playing in 2130 consecutive major league baseball games. It was a record that would stand for 56 years until Cal Ripken, Jr. bested it in 1995.

Born in 1901 to German immigrant parents living in Upper Manhattan, the young Gehrig developed into a star athlete playing both football and baseball. He was strong and powerful.  He attended Columbia University at the urging of his dominant mother so that he could become an engineer.  However, while playing baseball for Columbia, Gehrig was spotted by a scout for the New York Yankees in 1923 who noted Gehrig’s ability to hit especially long home runs. The Yankees signed him to a contract in June of that year. Gehrig never looked back.

His famous streak began in early June, 1925 when then-Yankee manager Miller Huggins replaced the struggling first baseman Wally Pipp with Gehrig. Thereafter, Gehrig would not relinquish his role as a starting player for the next 14 years. He played through fractures, lumbago, various sicknesses, and even being struck in the head by a ball. He would never complain.

Gehrig’s abilities on the diamond were simply amazing. He was a career .340 hitter. He amassed 493 career home runs and hit 23 grand slams. He was an astounding clutch hitter.  And he was a great fielder as well.

Stated simply, Lou Gehrig was pure grace. Despite his incredible abilities, he remained modest, quiet, and fun-loving. He was a family man with varied interests. He loved going to the Met to see operas, but he literally had to disguise himself for fear that his teammates would make fun of him.  He loved to travel, fish, and he especially loved children.

In the middle of the 1938 season, Gehrig began to feel noticeably more tired during and after each game.  Still, his hitting abilities, when compared to other ball players, was excellent — averaging .295 and hitting 29 homers.  Nonetheless, these stats were low for Lou.  But by 1939, things felt noticeably worse for Lou and the fans began to take notice. He was in a gradual physical decline.  After one month into the season and batting only .143 with no home runs, that was enough.

Gehrig immediately made arrangements to go the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota to find out what was wrong. His diagnosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), came in mid-June 1939. He wrote to his wife, Eleanor,

[t]here isn’t any cure… there are very few of these cases. It is probably caused by some germ…Never heard of transmitting it to mates… There is a 50–50 chance of keeping me as I am. I may need a cane in 10 or 15 years. Playing is out of the question…

He immediately retired, although he dressed out in pinstripes and was present in the Yankee dugout for the remainder of the 1939 season. He knew he was dying. But, he refused to feel sorry for himself. Later that year, the Baseball Writers Association elected him to Baseball’s Hall of Fame, waiving the normal 5 year waiting period.

Although Gehrig received many lucrative offers after his retirement, the only one that he accepted was that from Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. It was a job as New York City’s Parole Commissioner and it appealed to Gehrig because it centered on public service. Gehrig dove into the job like he did everything else; however, he fell into rapid physical decline and by mid-1941 he quietly resigned.  He died one month later, June 2, 1941 (16 years to-the-day when he became the regular starting player for the Yankees) at the young age of 39.

For many, he is remembered because of the disease that bears his name; yet, it was his personal qualities, while in life, that make him truly special. I could go on and on about Gehrig (and maybe I already have!), but I think everyone here gets the picture.  Perhaps the movie Pride of the Yankees where Gary Cooper’s portrayed Gehrig was misnamed. Maybe it should have been named the Pride of Our Nation.

 

Spring 1923. At bat for Columbia University playing at South Field.

Spring 1923. At bat for Columbia University playing at South Field.

Lou with his "best girl," Mom Gehrig. Probably late 1920s.

Lou with his “best girl,” Mom Gehrig. Probably late 1920s.

Late 1920's. Fishing with Babe Ruth.

Late 1920’s. Fishing with Babe Ruth.

May 3, 1938. Gehrig stealing home against the St. Louis Browns

May 3, 1938. Gehrig stealing home against the St. Louis Browns.

June 21 1939:  Lou returns from the Mayo Clinic with his wife Eleanor meeting him on the tarmac.

June 21 1939: Lou returns from the Mayo Clinic with his wife Eleanor meeting him on the tarmac.

October 1939. Lou studies crime in this publicity shot. He was having difficulty dressing himself at this point.

October 1939. Lou studies crime in this publicity shot. He was having difficulty dressing himself at this point.

1940: Gehrig turns down another offer.

1940: Gehrig turns down another offer.

March 1941. This evidences Gehrig's signature. He could barely write his name at this point. He died a few months later.

March 1941. This evidences Gehrig’s signature. He could barely write his name at this point.  Compare it to the above signature. He died a few months later.

 

A Titanic Disaster

April 1912. The recent news of the South Korean ferry-boat tragedy harkens one to recall yet another ship that also went down 102 years Aprils ago. Of course, that ship was the Titanic, part of a huge shipping company then-known as the White Star Line.

It was the largest ship afloat in the world at that time, designed to compete with Cunard’s ships the Mauritania and the Lusitania. It was thought to be unsinkable due to its double bottom hull and its compartment design.  And it was advertised to be a liner unsurpassed luxuries.  It’s maiden voyage embarked from South Hampton, England and was intended to arrive in New York City about a week later.

The cause of its sinking, it striking an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, remains the subject of lively discussion. Was the ship was going too fast? Were warnings of an icepack ignored by the Captain?  Others believe that the metallurgy of the ship was substandard. Did the metal fail (become too brittle) in those frigid waters? And then there are questions about how the disaster itself was handled. Were there enough lifeboats? Were they loaded properly? Did the protocols to alert other nearby ships (there were two in the area) of its ongoing distress cause additional lives to be lost? Often tragedies such as these pave the way for additional safety measures to be implemented, and that is true about the experience of this particular sinking

Below are many pictures from the Titanic. We have a Jesuit Priest, Father Francis Browne, to thank for some of the photography here. Father Browne (actually, he was studying to be a Priest at the time) loved photography  and he was briefly onboard the Titanic from its voyage from South Hampton to Queenstown, Ireland. The Titanic thereafter departed Queenstown for its intended final destination, New York City.

First Class.  The Dining Saloon, photo taken by Father Browne.

First Class. The Dining Saloon, photo taken by Father Browne.

Third Class.  Menu for the day the Titanic hit the iceberg.  Note the emphasis on a large breakfast and a fairly light supper--"gruel, cabin biscuits, and cheese."

Third Class. Menu for the day the Titanic hit the iceberg. Note the emphasis on a large breakfast and a fairly light supper–“gruel, cabin biscuits, and cheese.”

The Gymnasium.in 1912. The man on the rowing machine was the "physical educator" or "trainer." Behind is was the ship's electrician who is on a mechanical "camel."

The Gymnasium.in 1912. The man on the rowing machine was the “physical educator” or “trainer.” Behind him was the ship’s electrician who is on a mechanical “camel.” Photo taken by Father Browne.

Life onboard.

Life onboard.

Last known picture of the Titanic as it steams away from the coast of Ireland. Taken by Father Browne.

Last known picture of the Titanic as it steams away from the coast of Ireland. Taken by Father Browne.

Two Lifeboats carrying survivors about to board the Carpathia.

Two lifeboats carrying Titanic survivors heading toward the rescue ship Carpathia.

Survivors on the rescue ship Carpathia.

Survivors aboard the Carpathia.

Wrecked bow.  The Titanic today.

The Titanic today.