13th August 1888

Television inventor John Logie Baird is born

Dunbartonshire-born John Logie Baird is remembered for inventing the television, initially in black and white (greyscale) and later in colour.

Baird wasn’t the only inventor hoping to develop a viable, working television system, but he was the first to succeed, and he gave his first public demonstrations at Selfridges department store in London in 1925.

Public demonstration

On 17 March that year, the Westminster Gazette had carried a description of Baird’s demonstration, saying, “there was given yesterday the first public demonstration by the inventor Mr John L Baird of an experiment in television. The demonstration, which was watched by hundreds of people in the Palm Court, was entirely successful and created a great deal of interest.”

The demonstrations, which were part of Selfridge’s 16th anniversary celebrations, were held three times a day – at 11.20, 2.30 and 3.15.

Despite the technology itself being an enormous leap forward, one has to wonder how engaging the demonstrations themselves really were. Seven years later, Baird was back at Selfridges, once again demonstrating television to the masses.

Technology improves

On 20 August 1932, the Marylebone Mercury described how, on that occasion, “artists from the Savoy Follies took part in the first of a series of demonstrations of the Baird system of television at Selfridge’s Stores. The demonstrations, which take place nine times a day, are to last a fortnight. Mr JL Baird said it was just over seven years ago that the first public demonstration of his system had taken place in the same building. On that occasion the image transmitted was of the simplest – a letter of the alphabet on a screen about the size of a postage stamp. The demonstration on Monday was on a screen 3ft by 7ft and was heard and seen distinctly by larger audiences.”

Once he had got the technology working, he made a series of rapid advances in a fairly short time including, in 1928, the world’s first transatlantic transmission. The following year, the BBC, which had previously only ever produced radio programmes, made its first television transmission.

John Logie Baird’s rivals

By the late 1930s, though, it was becoming clear that Baird’s original television system, while a trailblazing innovation, was being outclassed by its rivals in both image resolution and convenience.

The BBC discontinued use of his technology and, in the late 1940s, Baird’s company was acquired by a rival. This didn’t put an end to his interest in the field, though, and he continued to work on new innovations, including 3D images and high-definition pictures, which were ahead of their time.

John Logie Baird’s death

John Logie Baird died in 1946. On 14 June, the Yorkshire Evening Post explained that he “died in his sleep early to-day at his home… he was 58. He was taken ill in February with influenza and later had a complete physical breakdown… JL Bairds Ltd arranged for the Victory Parade [after the Second World War] to be shown last Saturday at the Savoy Hotel, London, on the largest directly-viewed screen ever produced – 23in by 21in – and 75 guests at the hotel watched the parade from start to finish. As Mr Baird was unable to be present, a description of the demonstration was telephoned to him on his sick bed.”

John Logie Baird and the Noctovisor

The following day, the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer reminded readers that he had “also invented the Noctovisor, an apparatus for seeing in the dark by invisible rays” and was “later chief guest at the first annual dinner of the Yorkshire Television Association.”

Since 1941, said the paper, “Baird had been consulting technical advisor to Cable and Wireless Ltd. Last April he was reported to have completed his researches into a new phase of television – telefilms – which would enable people sitting in special cinemas to see events as they occur miles away.”

Sadly, he didn’t live long enough to witness the event that would make television a mass consumer item in British homes: the coronation of 1953.



Other events that occured in August

FREE Scotland history newsletter

Don't miss our weekly update on Scotland's fascinating history. We promise never to sell your data to anyone else, and there's a super-easy unsubscribe link on the bottom of each email so you can leave whenever you want.