John Logie Baird (1888–1946)

The television was among the inventions that did most to change society in the twentieth century. European, American and Japanese inventors attempted to transmit still images or moving pictures from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. John Logie Baird, in the 1920s, was the first to produce a practical product for public use.

Baird grew up at Helensburgh in Scotland and studied at the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College. He suffered from illness throughout his life and was unfit to join the army in the First World War. He took a job with the Clyde Valley Electrical Power Company and then, in 1923, moved to the south coast of England where he set up his own workshop to experiment with television. Three years later he had moved to a laboratory in central London: on 26 January 1926 he gave a demonstration to members of the Royal Society of the transmission of live moving images that showed tonal gradation. At around the same time he demonstrated successful experiments with colour television and stereoscopic television. In 1929, he made the first trans-Atlantic transmission.

His technology used a mechanical scan system based on the Nipkow disc, which had been patented in 1884 by the German inventor Paul Gottlieb Nipkow. He set up the Baird Television Development Company and worked with collaborators in Britain, Germany and France, including the British Broadcasting Corporation, the German post office and Télévision-Baird-Natan. As a result, his system was used for the first public television broadcasts.

In the early 1930s, Baird worked on an electronic scanning system for television but broadcasters preferred other electronic systems. The Baird system was succeeded by the EMI-Marconi system from around 1937. Baird continued to patent new developments in colour television that would prove influential long after his death. He also produced inventions concerned with video recording, fibre-optics and rubber. He died at the age of 57 in 1946.