John Logie Baird (born on 13 August 1888) was a Scottish engineer and innovator who is credited as being one of the main inventors of television. Like the telephone that went before, television was the product of the work of several inventors but history has judged Baird to be the foremost of these.
Baird was 26 at the outbreak of World War One but was physically unfit to serve and instead took a job in munitions work with the Clyde Valley Electrical Power Company. This seemed to fire his interest in electricity – in particular the possible carriage of images along telephone lines.
Working in England in 1923 Baird succeeded in cobbling together what is believed to be the first working television unit, using a highly unlikely collection of odd components. These were listed as being “an old hatbox and a pair of scissors, some darning needles, a few bicycle light lenses, a used tea chest, and sealing wax and glue”.
Later in the same year he was able to transmit an image in “black and white with grey tones” but when he attempted to demonstrate this technology to the Daily Express newspaper, his reception was anything but encouraging. The news editor thought Baird was demented and instructed one of his staff:
“For God’s sake, go down to reception and get rid of a lunatic who’s down there. He says he’s got a machine for seeing by wireless! Watch him — he may have a razor on him”.
Despite this shaky beginning Baird’s work, plus those of several others experimenting along the same lines, eventually flowered into one of the wonders of human endeavour – television – an invention that was to have a profound impact on civilisations around the world.
Baird’s contribution is recognised in Australia by the Logie Awards, a mark of excellence in Australian television. The title was suggested by Graham Kennedy in 1960 and has been celebrated annually ever since.
Image: John Logie Baird, photographed in 1917, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.