John Logie Baird was a Scottish engineer considered the first person to demonstrate a working television.
Baird was born on 14 August 1888 in Helensburgh on the west coast of Scotland, the son of a clergyman. Dogged by ill health for most of his life, he nonetheless showed early signs of ingenuity, rigging up a telephone exchange to connect his bedroom to those of his friends across the street. His studies at the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College were interrupted by the outbreak of World War One. Rejected as unfit for the forces, he served as superintendent engineer of the Clyde Valley Electrical Power Company.
Baird then moved to the south coast of England and applied himself to creating a television, a dream of many scientists for decades.
His first crude attempt was made of odds and ends, but by 1924 he managed to transmit a flickering image across a few feet. On 26 January 1926 he gave the world’s first demonstration of true television before 50 scientists in an attic room in central London. In 1927, his television was demonstrated over 438 miles of telephone line between London and Glasgow, and he formed the Baird Television Development Company. (BTDC). In 1928, the BTDC achieved the first transatlantic television transmission between London and New York and the first transmission to a ship in mid-Atlantic. He also gave the first demonstration of both colour and stereoscopic television.
In 1929, the German post office gave him the facilities to develop an experimental television service based on his mechanical system, the only one operable at the time. Sound and vision were initially sent alternately, and only began to be transmitted simultaneously from 1930. However, Baird’s mechanical system was rapidly becoming obsolete as electronic systems were developed, chiefly by Marconi-EMI in Britain and America. Although he had invested in the mechanical system in order to achieve early results, Baird had also been exploring electronic systems from an early stage. Nevertheless, a BBC committee of inquiry in 1935 prompted a side-by-side trial between Marconi-EMI’s all-electronic television system, which worked on 405 lines to Baird’s 240. Marconi-EMI won, and in 1937 Baird’s system was dropped.
Baird died on 14 June 1946 in Bexhill-on-Sea in Sussex.1