Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame

Early mechanical television

Baird experimenting with his first television transmitter, 1925

John Logie BairdJohn Logie Baird (1888-1946), engineer and inventor of mechanical television and pioneer of televised images.

Engineering achievements

John Logie Baird was the first person to televise objects in motion.

He produced televised images in outline in 1924, transmitted recognisable human faces in 1925 and demonstrated the televising of moving objects in 1926 to members of the Royal Institution. He demonstrated colour television in 1928. On 30 September 1929 Baird transmitted, by arrangement with the BBC, its first experimental television broadcast using the Baird 30-line system. Later, on 22 August 1932, the first public (in the UK), 30-line television service was inaugurated by the BBC.

When the BBC's London high definition television service began in 1936, the Baird 240-line system was in competition with one promoted by Marconi Electrical and Musical Instruments (EMI), and in February 1937 the BBC adopted the Marconi EMI system exclusively. The last BBC transmission using the Baird 240-line system was sent out on 30 January 1937. Baird Television Ltd went into receivership in 1939 after BBC Television was closed down by the onset of war. Despite this, Baird continued to innovate and ultimately held 178 patents. He demonstrated 3-D television in 1942.

His Life

Age Event Year
Born in Helensburgh, Dunbartonshire on 13th August1888
11 Educated at Larchfield Academy, Helensburgh1899
18 Matriculated, Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College1906
26 Diploma in Electrical Engineering The Royal Technical College, Glasgow, 1 October1914
26 Attended Glasgow University as a final year BSc student in Electricity, Engineering and Natural Philosophy1914-15
28 Assistant mains engineer, Clyde Valley Electrical Power Company1916
28 Failed medical for military service1916
30 Resigned from Clyde Valley Electrical Power Company to follow entrepreneurial ventures1918
30-34 Sold, at different periods in Glasgow, West Indies and London, diverse products1918-23
34 Retired to Hastings after severe illness1923
36 Demonstrated, at Selfridge's Oxford Street store, crude outlines of objects in April1925
36 Television Ltd registered on 11 June1925
37 First demonstration of television at 22 Frith Street, London to about 40 members of the Royal Institution on 26 January 1926
38 Baird Television Development Company Ltd established in April 1927
38 First long-distance transmission by wire, from London to the Central Hotel, Glasgow in May 1927
38 First trans-Atlantic reception of television transmitted by radio from London to New York in February 1928
39 Delivered lecture on 'Television' to Glasgow University Engineering Society on 1 March 1928
39 Delivered lecture on 'Television' to Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland on 6 March 1928
39 Baird International Television Ltd established on 25 June 1928
41 Baird transmitted, by arrangement with the BBC, the first experimental television broadcasts using his 30-line system on 30 September 1929
41 By 1930 a total of 88 patents had been granted 1930
43 Married Margaret Cecilia Albu in New York in November 1931
48 Demonstrated 120-line theatre television on a 2.4 x 2 metre screen in December 1936
48 Last BBC transmission using Baird 240-line system on 30 January 1937
48 Elected Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh on 5 July 1937
49 Demonstrated large-screen colour television pictures in February 1938
52 Demonstrated 600-line colour television in December 1940
53 Demonstrated stereoscopic colour television in December 1941
56 Designed, constructed and exhibited a multi-gun colour television tube (the telechrome tube) 1944
57 Died in Bexhill, East Sussex, on 14 June and buried in Helensburgh Cemetery 1946

His Legacy

Although Baird's system was not the one that was finally chosen by the BBC, it was Baird who led the way in television, and Baird who had the courage, imagination and determination to bring about its success. He created the spark and had the vision to predict the huge impact that television would have on the world. He is regularly cited as one of the world's great innovators and inventors. His name is synonymous with Scottish ingenuity and perseverance in engineering. In 2002 he was ranked 44 in the BBC's public poll of 100 Greatest Britons. In 2014 he was inducted into the Honor Roll of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers.

More Information

Television and Me: the Memoirs of John Logie Baird. 2004. [written in 1941]
John Logie Baird - a life. A Kamm and M Baird, National Museums of Scotland, 2002.
John Baird: The Romance and Tragedy of the Pioneer of Television. Sydney Moseley, Odhams, 1952
The Television Man: The Story of John L. Baird. John Rowland, Roy Publishers, 1966
Television Baird. Margaret Baird, 1973
Baird of Television: The Life Story of John Logie Baird. Ronald F. Tiltman, Arno Press, 1974
John Logie Baird: 50 Years of Television. Maurice Exwood, Institution of Electronic and Radio Engineers History of Technology Monograph. IRE, 1976
John Logie Baird and Television. Michael Hallett, Priory, 1978
British television: the formative years. R W Burns, 1986
Vision Warrior. Tom McArthur and Peter Waddell, The Orkney Press, 1990
Seeing by Wireless: The Story of Baird Television. Ray Herbert, Published by the author, 1996
John Logie Baird, Television Pioneer. Russell Burns, History of Technology Series, 28. Institution of Electrical Engineers, 2000
Restoring Baird's Image. Donald F. McLean, Institution of Electrical Engineers, 2001
The Three Dimensions of John Logie Baird. Douglas Brown, Radio Society of Great Britain, 2012.
The Achievement of Television: the quality and features of John Logie Baird's system in 1926. D F McLean, Intl J of Hist of Eng Tech, Vol 84 No 2, July 2014, 227-247.
The Great British Broadcasting Competition: a multi-disciplinary analysis of the emergence of BBC television. D F McLean, Media History, 2017.

Correspondence, notebooks, papers, photographs University of Strathclyde and University of Glasgow Archives.
Baird Television an excellent website maintained by Malcolm Baird and Iain Baird, son and grandson of John Logie Baird.
John Logie Baird Collection at the Hastngs Museum Art gallery
Helensburgh Heritage website features Baird material
A Voice in Vision ITV Play of the Week broadcast 18 Dec 1957 with Michael Gwynn as John Logie Baird
The Fools on the Hill Jack Rosenthal's 1986 TV movie of the opening night of British television, with Robert McIntosh as John Logie Baird
I Preferred Madness BBC2. 17 August 1988. In 1941, while convalescing from a heart attack, Baird dictated his autobiography. Unpublished at the time of broadcast, it forms the core of this progamme.
John Logie Baird, the Man who saw the Future BBC. 2002
The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) has an annual John Logie Baird Memorial Lecture
One of 12 historic figures honoured in first year of Historic Scotland Commemorative Plaque Scheme.
There are 25 portraits of John Logie Baird held by the National Portrait Gallery
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry (full text available to subscribers and UK library members)

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