Elma Farnsworth Passes at 98
Widow of TV Pioneer
BOUNTIFUL, UT – Elma G. Farnsworth, the widow of television pioneer Philo T. Farnsworth, has died at 98. Farnsworth, who was nicknamed "Pem," died in Bountiful, Utah, of natural causes.
Farnsworth, who was raised on a Utah farm, met Philo Farnsworth during her sophomore year in high school. They were engaged on her birthday in February 1926 and married three months later.
Philo Farnsworth invented an early television system, which he conceived of while plowing his father's Idaho potato field at age 14. He also helped to develop radar. On Sept. 7, 1927, he transmitted the first image on television in San Francisco. The first person whose image appeared on TV was his wife, Pem Farnsworth.
From the 1940s through the 1960s, the Farnsworths lived in Fort Wayne, Indiana, after Philo established Farnsworth Television and Radio Corp. in the city in 1938. In 1967 they moved to Maine, and later to Salt Lake City, where Philo died in 1971. In 1997, Pem Farnsworth returned to Fort Wayne to live with her youngest son. She returned to Utah less than two years ago.
Following Philo's passing, Pem Farnsworth, who was often referred to as "the mother of television," devoted her energies to informing the public that her husband was the inventor of TV technology. Her commitment was fueled by the fact that he had never received full credit for his invention due to expiration of patents and the marketing clout of competitor RCA.
Thanks in part to Pem's efforts, Philo Farnworth was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1980. He was also honored on a postage stamp.
In 1990, Pem published a book about her husband, Distant Vision: Romance and Discovery on an Invisible Frontier. In 2003, she was present when the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences bestowed the first Philo T. Farnsworth Award for Technical Achievement at the Emmy Awards. Pem had also tried for years to develop a motion picture about her husband's life. According to published reports, HBO currently has a Farnsworth project in the works.
Pem Farnsworth is survived by her sons, Kent and Russell, and several grandchildren. Two other sons, Kenneth Gardner and Philo III, died previously.
The Television Academy's Archive of American Television interviewed Elma Farnsworth for seven hours in Salt Lake City, UT. Farnsworth discussed her husband's first television invention – the Image Dissector Tube – and the excitement of seeing its first moving image. While Philo toiled to create the first electronic television, RCA and Vladimir Zworykin worked on a similar invention, both trying to finish before the other. Elma Farnsworth talked about the heated competition and the ensuing patent fights between Philo and General David Sarnoff, then President of RCA. The interview was conducted by Jeff Kisseloff on June 25, 1996.
Elma Farnsworth's interview may be viewed via Google Video at http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=%22Archive+of+American+Television+Interview+with+Elma+Farnsworth%22
The following is a timeline of the Farnsworths' lives:
August 19, Philo Taylor Farnsworth was born.
February 26. Elma "Pem" Gardner was born.
The Farnsworth family moves from Utah to Rigby, Idaho. It was here that Philo encountered electricity for the first time.
Philo attended Rigby High School in Idaho. It is here that he delved into the molecular theory of matter, electrons, the Einstein theory, automobile engines, model airplanes and chemistry.
March. Farnsworth sketched a complicated array of electrical diagrams for his chemistry teacher, Justin Tolman. First time Philo expressed his idea for electronic television. Both were convinced the scheme would work, but neither knew how or when he could get a chance to prove it.
Philo went to Glen Falls, Idaho as an electrician on a railroad.
Philo moved to Provo, Utah in the fall. Attended high school in Provo and devoted spare time to study in the library maintained by Brigham Young University.
Philo enrolled at Brigham Young University.
Philo's father died. Philo left college to help support his family. He entered the radio business at Salt City as a serviceman, but the shop failed and he went to work in the railroad yards.
The Farnsworth family moved into half of a two family house in Provo. The other half was occupied by the Gardner family (8 children – one of whom was Elma). Philo and Elma met.
Philo (a.k.a. Phil) and his future brother-in-law, Cliff, both subscribed to a correspondence course in radio maintenance. In the spring, they ventured off to Salt Lake City to start their own business installing and repairing radios.
The business failed. Cliff returned to Provo and Phil signed up with the University of Utah placement service. He was hired by George Everson to be a Survey Manager.
Pem left Provo and took her own room in the boarding house where Cliff and Phil shared one.
Association between Everson, Farnsworth and Les Gorell was formed. Everson invested $6000 in Philo's idea. Not enough money, so they looked towards investors. Crocker National Bank in San Francisco backed the idea.
Philo joined the Crocker Research Laboratories. They set up a laboratory in San Francisco.
Pem worked in the lab maintaining the logbooks and spot-welding the tube elements. She was taught how to use precision tools for constructing the elements of the first tubes. Her salary was $10 per month.
Cliff (Pem's brother) moved to San Francisco from Oregon to become "chief glass blower" for the laboratory.
September 7. The first Farnsworth television pictures were seen in the San Francisco laboratory. A sixty-line image of a dollar sign was the first image Farnsworth transmitted.
Farnsworth's first application for a patent was made – Patent No. 1,773,980. It covered a complete electronic television system, including an "image dissector tube."
A fire on the second floor of the lab charred all of Farnsworth's equipment. (They quickly recovered.)
McCargar and George Everson bought out the remainder of the Crocker Group and reincorporated the venture as Television Laboratories, Inc. Jess McCargar was named treasurer and Farnsworth was named the director of research.
In order to head off the threat that a new industry would obsolesce his own, RCA radio chief David Sarnoff entered the new industry himself. (He became president of RCA on January 3, 1930). He acquired the services of Vladimir K. Zworykin, a research engineer for Westinghouse, who had some experience in television.
Spring. Zworykin visited Farnsworth in his lab to "investigate the possibility of a patent license." It was during this visit that Zworykin learned of the Image Dissector – the missing ingredient that had eluded Zworykin and his contemporaries.
David Sarnoff offered to buy the whole enterprise (including the services of Philo) for $100,000. Everson declined.
Spring. Philco Radio Corporation in Philadelphia, PA, became the first bona fide licensee. Philco agreed to pick up the tab for Farnsworth's ongoing research. In exchange, Farnsworth agreed to move his entire operation to Philadelphia to get Philco started in the television business.
Farnsworth obtained an experimental license from the FCC to conduct over-the-air television transmission. He set up a prototype receiver in his home, and little Philo III became the first charter member of the "television generation."
Winter. Phil and Pem's second son, Ken, was stricken with strep throat and died. He was buried in Salt Lake City. Philco flatly refused Phil's request for a leave of absence for the funeral. Pem was forced to make the trip to Utah alone. This insensitive treatment convinced Farnsworth he could no longer depend on Philco to protect his interests, and he left Philco.
The venture was reincorporated once again, this time under the name of Farnsworth Television.
The competition between Farnsworth and the Radio Corporation began intensifying. RCA began demonstrating its own new electronic television system, which Zworykin succeeded in producing three years after his visit to Farnsworth's lab.
RCA claimed its new camera tube, "the Iconoscope" and Farnsworth's Image Dissector performed the same function in a similar manner, that Zworykin invented the Image Dissector in 1923 (before Farnsworth), and that Farnsworth was violating Zworykin's priority. Farnsworth mounted a challenge before the examiners of the U.S. Patent Office. Battle between RCA and Farnsworth began.
April. The U.S. Patent Office delivered its first milestone decision in the case of Zworykin vs. Farnsworth. RCA appealed the decision. The battle continued.
Summer. The prestigious Franklin Institute of Philadelphia invited Philo to conduct the world's first full-scale public demonstration of television. The response was so strong that the exhibit, which was originally scheduled to last ten days, went on day and night for three weeks. The Franklin Institute demonstration attracted considerable international attention, and marked the beginning of a steady flow of foreign visitors to Farnsworth's lab (including scientists from the BBC).
Farnsworth made a deal with Baird Television of England. Philo got $50,000 down payment as a sort of opening fee, royalties in advance payment for the license.
Farnsworth's attorney, Donald K. Lippincott, filed applications for 32 new patents, which covered improvements in television as well as some new work that was not directly related.
July 22. The Examiner of Interference awarded Farnsworth the priority of the image dissector.
March 6. The case between Farnsworth and RCA closed. This was a great victory for Farnsworth and gave him complete control over the image dissector.
Farnsworth built a television studio. Farnsworth and his partner, Russell Seymour "Skee" Turner, decided to go ahead with their plans to build a television studio separate from the laboratories. The crew created and built a special transmitter and a 100-foot tower that could blanket the Philadelphia metropolitan area with experimental television signals. They also designed and built the world's first electronic video switcher, which allowed instantaneous inter-cutting between the two cameras as programs were broadcast. While all the equipment was under construction, the FCC granted Farnsworth a license to conduct experimental television transmissions under the call letters W3XPF.
The flood of publicity peaked. Paramount Newsreel Service (the Eyes and Ears of the World) ran two stories about the coming of television and the remarkable man who put it all together. One story described Farnsworth as the man who made "mankind's most fanciful dream about to become a startling reality."
Autumn. Competitive testing between EMI and Baird for a BBC television contract began. Baird had problems with his Image Dissector tubes. Farnsworth was called to advise. He took Pem to Europe with him. (10 years after their wedding, they made this their honeymoon). Ultimately, Baird lost the contract to EMI.
After six weeks, in Europe, Pem and Philo returned to the labs. During his absence, a lot had changed. Philo had a confrontation with McCargar about reducing payroll. Philo would not fire anyone, so McCargar fired everyone himself.
February 4. Baird Television turned away from broadcasting and concentrated on home receivers and theater television.
Meeting of the Board of Directors. They decided that the Farnsworth enterprise would acquire a factory and engage in the manufacture and sale of radios until the market was ready for television. This left television "up for grabs."
AT & T President Walter S. Gifford and Farnsworth entered into a cross-license agreement with AT & T for their coaxial cable.
This partnership with AT & T gave Farnsworth a boost. The announcement gave other the confidence to begin purchasing equipment from Farnsworth. The Columbia Broadcasting System was one of the first companies to buy Dissector tubes from Farnsworth for TV experiments they were conducting from the Chrysler Building in New York City.
Lawyers for Farnsworth and RCA sat down to begin negotiating the long-awaited cross licenses.
January. The Television Committee of the RMA decided (mostly at the insistence of David Sarnoff of RCA) that the television service in the U.S. should begin with the opening of the World's Fair in New York City. While six other American manufacturing companies planned to have television receivers on sale by April 30, Farnsworth Television was not among them.
September. RCA signed an agreement that, for the first time in RCA's history, had them paying royalties for continued use of Farnsworth's patents. David Sarnoff finally acknowledged Philo's contributions to television.
Farnsworth Television acquired a radio manufacturing company, the Capehart Co. in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It was reorganized and renamed the Farnsworth Radio and Television Corp. E.A. Nicholas was president, and Farnsworth was director of research.
By the end of the year, the company turned out over $1 million worth of radio sets. Plans were set up to begin manufacturing television receivers as well, but they were canceled because of the war.
April. A general order went out to the radio industry from the U.S. government that the manufacture of commercial radio sets (and television receivers) had to be discontinued. This was to conserve vital materials that the government deemed necessary for the coming national defense effort.
After the war, there were great plans to start production of television receivers at the Farnsworth plant. However, there were many financial problems.
The assets of Farnsworth Television Radio Corp. were taken over, and it became a subsidiary of the International Telephone & Telegraph Co. (ITT). This was the end of Philo's direct connection with the television industry.
January. Philo became ill with pneumonia. (He had long been plagued with bad health).
March 11. Philo Farnsworth died. He held more than 300 U.S. and foreign patents. After Philo's death, Pem began to promote the credit for her husband's work. Although Farnsworth won the patent interference case with RCA, RCA won the public recognition battle, a victory Pem still feels a need to reverse.
Philo awarded Northern California Governors Lifetime Achievement Award Emmy (posthumous). Per Jeff Kisseloff.
The Bonneville International Corporation in Salt Lake City passed a resolution praising Pem for her "unfailing faith" in working for and supporting her husband. Arch Madsen, president of the Bonneville International Corporation, heralded her as the "Mother of Television."
A historical marker was affixed to the San Francisco building where the first Farnsworth television image was projected.
Philo was one of four inventors honored (in September) by the U.S. Postal Service with issuance of a stamp bearing his portrait. (20-cent stamp).
Philo inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (221 S. Broadway, Akron, Ohio, 44308.)
A statue of Philo was dedicated in Washington's Statuary Hall in May.