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Mechanical Television

John Logie Baird (1888 - 1946)

John Logie Baird, a Scottish engineer and entrepreneur, achieved his first transmissions of simple face shapes in 1924 using mechanical television. On March 25, 1925, Baird held his first public demonstration of television at the London department store Selfridges on Oxford Street in London. In this demonstration, he had not yet obtained adequate half-tones in the moving pictures, and only silhouettes were visible.

In the first week of October, 1925, Baird obtained the first actual television picture in his laboratory. At this time, his test subject was a ventriloquist's dummy, Stooky Bill, which was placed in front of the camera apparatus. Baird  later recollected,

"The image of the dummy's head formed itself on the screen with what appeared to me an almost unbelievable clarity. I had got it! I could scarcely believe my eyes and felt myself shaking with excitement."

Here is the story of Baird's first public demonstration of television, couresty of Tony Davies:

I am involved in the organisation of an event at the Royal  Insitution in London, England, on 27th January 2017, which is partly to commemorate the achievements of John Logie Baird in early mechanical television inventions and to provide an overview of the technology progress to the present digital methods.   It is associated with the installation of an IEEE History Milestone Plaque on the previous day, to recognise the first public demonstration of television.

Tthe first public demonstration of 'true television' was done by Baird on 26th January 1926.  However , we believe that was NOT the demonstration at Selfridges Department Store. What happened on 26th January 1926 was that in Frith Street, Soho, London, this first public demonstration was done before some 40 or so members of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, and although the documentation is sparse, there was a newspaper report in The Times about it, and it is generally considered to be an accurate claim.   (By 'true television' is  meant moving grey-scale images, not just moving silhouettes)

The Selfridges demonstrations were earlier, in March 1925, but consisted of moving silhouettes only, with no grey-scale present.  Baird succeeded in doing grey-scale images towards the end of 1925, leading to the 26th January 1926 demonstration to RI members.

It is actually rather difficult to get accurate information about some of John Logie Baird's achievements:  it seems that he was rather secretive about how things he did actually worked because he was afraid the others with more money and commercial backing would 'steal his ideas' - so he sometimes when explaining how his inventions worked he including some deliberate mistakes.  Moreover, some of the BBC people seemed to have a low opinion of him, which did not help.

The Baird company continued to publicize his demonstations and J. L. Baird's other scientific breakthroughs as they feverishly worked to obtain financial backing and construct a line of home receivers. Here is Baird's 1926 camera. Baird began broadcasting television in the fall of 1926 from a station in London.

From the British "Journal of The Television Society", September 1941

Courtesy of Steve Dichter

In February of 1928, Baird transmitted television images across the Atlantic, where they were received in Hartsdale, New York. Also in 1928, Baird demonstrated color television. Baird also recorded video images on phonograph records, though it took modern computer techniques to play them back.

1928 factory

With Baird's transmitting equipment, the British Broadcasting Corporation began regular experimental television broadcasts on September 30, 1929. By the following year, most of Britain's major radio dealers were selling Baird kits and ready-made receivers through retail and by mail order.

In 1929 Baird demonstrated the use of infrared light in television, and proposed a system called Noctovision, which was to be used by the military to locate enemy planes overhead without being detected.

In 1936, Baird and EMI competed to determine what standard would be used for the new high definition televison service. Baird's system was still primarily mechanical, while the EMI system was all-electronic. The EMI system prevailed, and Baird then turned his attention to color television, building a working electronic color system in 1942. Here is a paper by Douglas Brown and Malcolm Baird about John Logie Baird's Last Projects.

Baird died in 1946.

Set at Logie Bairds Bar in Edinburgh
Baird Television
July 4, 2004 article in the Sunday Post
Seeing by Wireless