Like Your TV? Thank Philo T. Farnsworth


Farnsworth inventor of the television
Philo T. Farnsworth with his television

One of the least-recognized yet most-influential inventors of the 20th century is unquestionably Philo T. Farnsworth. Born in Beaver, Utah on August 19, 1906, Farnsworth was a talented scientist from a young age. He began his inventing career in grade school by converting his family’s home appliances to electric power. During his high school years he won a national contest with his original invention of a tamper-proof lock. In his chemistry class in Rigby, Idaho, Farnsworth sketched out an idea for a vacuum tube that would revolutionize television—although neither his teacher nor his fellow students grasped the implications of his concept.

In 1927 he unveiled his all-electronic television prototype—the first of its kind—made possible by a video camera tube or “image dissector.” This was the same device that Farnsworth had sketched in his chemistry class as a teenager.

In later life, Farnsworth invented a small nuclear fusion device, the Farnsworth–Hirsch fusor, or simply “fusor”, employing inertial electrostatic confinement (IEC). Although not a practical device for generating nuclear energy, the fusor serves as a viable source of neutrons. The design of this device has been the acknowledged inspiration for other fusion approaches including the Polywell reactor concept in terms of a general approach to fusion design. Farnsworth held 165 patents, mostly in radio and television.

He died in 1971, largely in debt from legal expenses related to patent infringement claims.

A statue of Philo T. Farnsworth at the Letterman Digital Arts Center in San Fransisco
A statue of Philo T. Farnsworth at the Letterman Digital Arts Center in San Francisco

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