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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended January 19, 2001
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and the LDS Church
Sent on Mormon-News: 23Jan01

By Kent Larsen

What Farnsworth on the Web Reveals

NEW YORK, NEW YORK -- Well-informed Mormons know that a 14-year-old Idaho farm boy, Philo T. Farnsworth, invented television. But a New York Times look at the history of television through the web shows that not everyone agrees, and that the story may be far more complex than it appears.

Supporters of Farnsworth make their case in several places, including the Farnsworth Chronicles , Paul W. Schatzkin's biography that draws in part on Farnsworth's widow and eldest son for its material. Farnsworth's story has also been told in many books and other literary sources, including some Mormon sources, such as BYU professor Eric Samuelson's play, "A Love Affair with Electrons," presented last year at BYU.

But Farnsworth's detractors make their case for the villan of Farnswroth's story, David Sarnoff, who's company, RCA, ended up controlling the initial television patents. Sarnoff's story is told in a Technology Review article by Evan I. Schwartz that compares Sarnoff to Microsoft's Bill Gates. (See .)

But the New York Times' Michael Pollack prefers a more balanced and complex view of the history, found at the website for the Sarnoff Corporation , the successor to RCA Laboratories. Sarnoff's Alex Magoun disagrees with both positions, saying, "As with other histories of technologies of the 20th century, television suffers from the first run of corporate promotions and claims, and then the equally one-sided, anti-corporate revisions offered by supporters and descendants of those neglected in those histories."

Magoun, who as the curator for the corporation and director of the David Sarnoff Library is expanding the company's web-based information about television into a new site that will be available at in a few months, says that Farnsworth was well paid for his contribution (his family claims all he got was "a carton of Winstons, $80 cash, and Garry Moore's eternal gratitude."). He also says that the more important question might be "Who Innovated Television." The answer, says Magoun, isn't any one individual.


Inside the Soap Opera of Television's Early Days
New York Times pg8 18Jan01 I2
By Michael Pollack

Several biographies of Philo T. Farnsworth are available through

"Distant Vision : Romance and Discovery of an Invisible Frontier" by Elma G. Farnsworth, widow of Philo T. Farnsworth

"TV's Forgotten Hero : The Story of Philo Farnsworth" by Stephanie Sammartino McPherson, a juvenile book which is aimed at ages 9-12.

"The Story of Television; The Life of Philo T. Farnsworth" by George Everson, a 1974 biography published just a few years after Farnsworth died in 1971.

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Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information