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.

 

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.

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.

Wrigley Field Turns 100

April 23, 1914. One hundred years ago on this date, the first professional baseball game was played in Wrigley Field.  The Cubs have never won a World Series championship while playing in this park.

It was built on Chicago’s north side, at the intersection of Waveland and Sheffield Avenues, for a team known as the Chicago Chifeds who renamed themselves a year later as the “Whales.” Construction of the park, originally called Weeghman Park, only took a few months to complete.  The Chifeds/Whales were part of an upstart 6-team professional league called the Federal League which began “stealing” players from the then-existing American and National Leagues. The League ran out of money after 1915 and ended its run. Ironically, the Chicago Whales won the Federal League Championship in 1915, making it the last team to win a major league championship in the park.

1914: Construction of Weeghman Park, named after the Whaler's owner "Lucky Charlie Weeghman, who made his original fortunes in Lunch Counter franchises (the precursor to fast-food restaurants).  began in February.

February 1914: Construction begins of Weeghman Park, named after the Whaler’s owner “Lucky Charlie” Weeghman, who made his original fortunes in Lunch Counter franchises (the precursor to fast-food restaurants).

Summer, 1914. A Federal League game with the Whalers playing an unknown opponent.  The Federal League was short-lived after a no-nonsense Federal Judge in Chicago granted a permanent injunction closing down the Federal League.  That Judge's name was Kennesaw Mountain Landis, who became Major League Baseball's first Commissioner, following a scandal involving the Chicago White Sox when "Shoeless Joe" Jackson and 7 other players were accused of throwing the 1919 World Series.

Summer, 1914. A Federal League game with the Chifeds playing an unknown opponent. The Federal League was short-lived after it began hemorrhaging money in 1915 due to interference from the other two leagues.  The Federal League sued the National League over this interference, but a no-nonsense Federal Judge in Chicago–Kennesaw Mountain Landis–dithered in making a decision. The Federal League collapsed.  Interestingly, that lawsuit made it up to the U.S. Supreme Court where it declared that  Major League Baseball was exempt from Federal Anti-trust laws.

Weeghman bought the Chicago Cubs after 1915 and moved them into the park in 1916.  It became “Cubs Park.” Eventually, William Wrigley bought out Weeghman in the late teens  and it was renamed Wrigley Field in 1927. Although night games began in the National League in 1935, Wrigley Field did not install them–after intense pressure and debate–until  1988.

Will the Cubs ever win a World Series there? Hopefully.

1937:  In come the famous vines in the outfield. Many a ball was lost--or claimed to be lost--in this foliage.

1937: In come the famous vines,”Boston ivy,” in the outfield. Many a ball was lost–or claimed to be lost–in this foliage.

August 8, 1988. Let there be light. Originally, there were supposed be installed after the 1941 season, but after Pearl Harbor, P. K. Wrigley (William Wrigley's son), donated the lights to the war effort and later declared that he would never allow lights in Wrigley Field.

August 8, 1988. Let there be light. Originally, there were supposed be installed after the 1941 season, but after Pearl Harbor, P. K. Wrigley (William Wrigley’s son), donated the lights to the war effort and later declared that he would never allow lights in Wrigley Field.

America Turns a Page

April 12, 1945:  Many notable historical events occurred this week in history.  The Civil War began in 1861; Lincoln’s assassination occurred in 1865; the Titanic went down in 1912; the Apollo 13 crew made it back safely in 1970; and sensationally and most recently, Captain Richard Phillips was rescued by Navy Seals in 2009.  Arguably, however, one of the most significant events that occurred during this week may be the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the succession of Harry Truman’s presidency.

By the fall of 1944, Roosevelt’s appeared sickly; his face was thinner and gaunt. A whispering campaign by FDR’s enemies subtly suggested that Roosevelt was too sick to run for a fourth term.  And he was very sick.  Dr. Howard G. Bruenn,  FDR’s cardiologist, diagnosed the President with heart disease, left ventricular cardiac failure, and bronchitis. His blood pressure was off the charts.  Dr Bruenn recommended bed rest.  However, FDR’s chief physician, Ross T. McIntire sloughed this off, irresponsibly proclaiming that FDR’s cardiovascular system was fine and that the President was suffering from recurrent bronchitis and the flu. For himself, FDR maintained a strict “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding his health.  He followed Dr. McIntire’s advice.  He did not rest and he maintained a vigorous campaign schedule and thereafter a busy Presidential schedule. America elected a very sick man who did not have long to live.

Roosevelt collapsed while he was posing for a watercolor portrait at his retreat in Warm Springs, Georgia on April 12, 1945.  “I have a terrible headache,” he had said immediately before he lost consciousness.  The end was near. He died about 2 hours later, around 3:30 pm.  Americans were stunned by news and our nation grieved. And now it was Truman’s turn — he was hardly known — but his swearing-in ceremony as President occurred just a few hours after FDR’s death.

A page had been turned. While FDR represented righting the U.S. economy in the 1930s and winning the war in the 1940s,  Harry Truman’s Presidency would be dominated by post-war issues, both domestically and internationally, clothed in our newly christened Superpower status.  Truman’s post-war policies set forth a solid foundation that both future Republican and Democrat administrations would build upon and follow for at least the next 50 years. Although Truman became very unpopular during the last years of his presidency, scholars have now placed Truman’s Presidency into the “near-great” or “great” categories. And he was a great President. But that is the subject of another discussion for another day…

FDR in 1940:  Energetic and very much in command.

FDR in 1940: Energetic, vibrant, and very much in command.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FDR

One day before FDR’s death. Looking frail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eleanor Roosevelt sent this telegram to her son John.

Eleanor Roosevelt sent this telegram to her son John.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sadness in everyone's face during Truman's swearing in ceremony.

Sadness abound: The expressions on those present during Truman’s swearing-in ceremony.

This and That…

Below are a few pictures that I came across that looked intriguing. Most of the photos were early prototypes of some inventions that made it. The other pictures I thought were … well … interesting. As always, you can click on the pictures to make them bigger.

 

Hugo Gernsback invented the first "TV" glasses in the early 1960s. It was an advance in miniaturization.

Hugo Gernsback invented the first “TV” glasses in the early 1960s. It was an advance in miniaturization.

Here is an early"GPS" system from the 1930s. It worked by using a "rolling key" map. The map scrolled vertically, top-down, and its tempo was based on the speed of the car. No "recalculating" here.

Here is an early”GPS” system from the 1930s. It worked by using a “rolling key” map. The map scrolled vertically, top-down, and its tempo was based on the speed of the car. No “recalculating” here.

Children enjoying their apple products, 1948.

Children enjoying their apple products, 1948.

                                      versus

Version 2.0:  Children enjoying their apple products, 2011.

Version 2.0: Children enjoying their apple products, 2011.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1930s: This listening device was the precursor to radar, which through sound and simple math, could determine the distance and direction of a moving object. It was replaced by radar in the 1940s during WWII.

1930s: This listening device was the precursor to radar, which by sound and a simple mathematical equation, could determine the distance and direction of a moving object. It was replaced by radar in the 1940s during WWII.