Milestones:First Public Demonstration of Television, 1926

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London, UK
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United Kingdom and Ireland
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First Public Demonstration of Television, 1926


Members of the Royal Institution of Great Britain witnessed the world's first public demonstration of live television on 26 January 1926 in this building at 22 Frith Street, London. Inventor and entrepreneur John Logie Baird used the first floor as a workshop during 1924-1926, for various experimental activities, including the development of his television system. The BBC adopted Baird’s system for its first television broadcast service in 1930.

Street address(es) and GPS coordinates of the Milestone Plaque Sites

51.5134209, -0.1312051 22 Frith Street, London W1D 4RF England, UK

GPS Coordinates 51.5134209, -0.1312051

Details of the physical location of the plaque

The Milestone plaque would be mounted securely on the front wall of the building in full public view, at about First Floor level.

How the intended plaque site is protected/secured

The plaque would be readily visible, 24/7, to customers visiting the Bar-Italia or by passing pedestrians

Historical significance of the work

The First Public Demonstration of Television.

The history of the development of television began with the invention in 1884 of the Nipkow disc scanner, which provided a simple means of producing a two-dimensional raster from an input light source. Its capability could not be fully exploited until the advent of the post-WWI generation of electronic devices, such as optical detectors and electronic amplifiers, three decades later. A number of groups explored ways of applying the Nipkow disc to imaging technology, but it was Baird who won the race to demonstrate its practical application to television. He responded to the challenges presented by the primitive state of the electronics industry of the 1920s by an ingenious series of improvisations that are described in this proposal.

This Milestone proposed here celebrates Baird’s achievement by commemorating the first public demonstration of television that he gave at 22 Frith Street in London in January 1926.

The nomination is submitted on behalf of the Life Member Affinity Group of the United Kingdom and Ireland Section.

Historical significance of Baird’s achievement

Throughout the late 19th century and early 20th century many attempts were made to devise techniques that would form the basis of a ‘true’ television, i.e. a system that would allow real-time greyscale images of moving objects to be captured and transmitted electronically. Prior to Baird’s invention the advent of the electric telegraph, and the telephone, had transformed point-to-point human communications. When radio (wireless) systems were developed, the age of broadcasting began, and speech and music programmes could be delivered to millions of listeners every day.

The possibility that moving images might also be broadcast in a similar manner was regarded as a distant prospect until Baird’s historic demonstration. The potential impact of Baird’s achievement on society was understood across the world, and he was recognised as the pre-eminent television pioneer. It was regarded as a landmark, a defining moment in the history of television. Following this seminal event, many investors across the world sought to capitalise on the new technology. There was a rapid growth of businesses in the emerging television industry, in spite of the economic depression afflicting the West in the 1930s, because of the public desire to enjoy the benefits of the new service.

While some of Baird’s contemporaries succeeded in varying degrees to make progress towards the goal of true television that he reached in 1926, their systems were either incapable of dynamic operation (e.g. the fax machine) or were unable to produce greyscale images (e.g. the shadowgraph), or were deficient in both respects.

Ref. R10 gives a timeline of the development of television 1923-31.

Features that set this work apart from similar achievements

Baird’s Contemporaries.

While some of Baird’s contemporaries, such as the American Telephone and Telegraph company, Charles Jenkins, and Vladimir Zworykin, succeeded in varying degrees to make progress towards the goal of true television that he reached in 1926, their systems were either incapable of dynamic operation (e.g. the fax machine) or were unable to produce greyscale images (e.g. the shadowgraph), or were deficient in both respects.

By January 1926, Baird was sufficiently confident about his system to give the first public demonstration of his system. His ‘hands-on’ style of working ensured that practical problems could be readily sorted out. He also had secured patent protection (References 2 and 3) Baird is recognised internationally as the leading pioneer of his time in the development of the first practicable form of television because he discovered how to overcome the main problems holding up the progress of his competitors. Starting in 1923, with very limited resources, he was the first to resolve the key practical challenges that had thwarted previous efforts. By modern standards, his methods appear in retrospect to be somewhat primitive. This is because the absence of a mature electronics industry forced Baird to improvise with the available components and to rely on electromechanical methods that inevitably resulted in low quality pictures. For example, the limitations of the Nipkow scanning disc, combined with the primitive light sources and detectors then available, were well known and understood by Baird. He incorporated a series of lenses, at each aperture in the disk, for focussing both the transmitted and the reflected light beams (UK Patent 230-576 December 29th 1923). This improved the optical efficiency: the input light source could be focussed on each illuminated spot on the object in turn, as the disk rotated, and the reflected light from the spot was captured for the detector by a companion set of lenses (this is the so-called spotlight scanning, as opposed to floodlight scanning, as described in UK Patent 269.658 January 20th 1926).

Significant references

(Reference R3), taken from the London Times newspaper (on file at IEEE History Center), is a report of the momentous event at 22 Frith Street on the evening of January 26th 1926.

In his memoirs (Reference R4, page 59), Baird writes about how he invited a group of distinguished members of the Royal Institution of Great Britain to a demonstration at his workshop. He felt that his work had reached the stage where exposing it to public view would establish his primacy in the field of television, in spite of the danger that it might be copied by his competitors. The report of the demonstration was published in The Times two days later, and, very quickly, the news reached the USA and continental Europe. This brought a succession of visitors wanting to witness the birth of an exciting new industry.

Radio News (Reference R7, page4), described as a leading journal in the field in America, sent a commissioner to investigate. He reported that Mr Baird had ‘definitely and indisputably given a demonstration of real television’. The New York Times in an article in March 1927 also confirmed that Baird was the first ‘to transmit and receive a recognisable image’. The first public demonstration in the USA was given on 17th April 1927 by AT &T, over a year later, which succeeded in transmitting the images by wire between New York and Washington. Official acceptance of the validity of Baird’s claims is to be found in the US patent (Reference R3, granted in 1935 but given a priority date of January 20th 1926). However, he did not find it easy to achieve formal recognition from his direct competitors, perhaps because the stakes were too high.

Supporting materials

R1 Patents Baird obtained well over 100 patents covering various aspects of television. Two, in particular, are directly relevant to the demonstration at 22 Frith Street on 26th January `1926.

R2 GB Patent # 230-576 (29th December 1923), which describes the inclusion of lenses in the Nipkow disc

R3 GB Patent # 269-658 (20th January 1926), which describes the ‘spotlight’ scanning system.

R4 US Patent #2.006.124 (copy on file at IEEE History Center) was assigned a priority date of 20th January 1926 and follows on from the GB patent #269-658


R5 Baird, J.L. and M., Television and Me, Mercat Press, 2004, Edinburgh, (Chapter 5, pages 59, etc.)

R6 Burns, R.W. John Logie Baird, Television Pioneer, IEE History of Technology Series #28, 2000 (Chapter 3)

R7 Kamms, A, and Baird, M, John Logie Baird - A Life, Edinburgh, National Museums of Scotland Publishing 2002

Papers, Websites, etc.

R8 . The Invention of Television: Timeline 1923-31

R9. Mechanical Television: 3. The Times of London newspaper: press cutting from the edition of January 28th 1926 reporting the demonstration at 22 Frith Street on January 26th 1926. (copy on file at IEEE History Center)

Dedication Ceremony


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