With the Beijing Winter Olympics in full swing, and “television” being delivered via airwaves, cable, satellite and Internet protocol, most of us don’t think about the marvel that is a trans-Atlantic or a trans-Pacific broadcast.
On January 26, 1926, a Scotsman “gave the first public demonstration of a true television system” in London. He had begun tackling the problem of transmitting moving images and sound in 1920.
Then on 08 February 1928, the Scotsman orchestrated the first trans-Atlantic television transmission. The broadcast was in Purley, England; the receiver, in Hartsdale, New York.
The images were crude, imperfect, broken, but they were images none the less. Man’s vision had panned the ocean; transatlantic television was a demonstrated reality, and one more great dream of science was on the way to realization.
And two days later:
…[Baird’s] success deserves to rank with Marconi’s sending of the letter “s” across the Atlantic—the first intelligible signal ever transmitted from shore to shore in the development of transoceanic radio telegraphy. As a communication Marconi’s “s” was negligible; as a milestone in the onwards sweep of radio, of epochal importance. And so it is with Baird’s first successful effort in transatlantic television.
Baird was a showman, and news media and the public were intrigued by this show:
The ability to see in real-time a moving image in New York of the face of a person in London fascinated the press and the public, already excited by trans-Atlantic music concert relays and stories of human endeavor in the first trans- Atlantic crossings by aircraft.
The New York Times did not overstate the magnitude of his invention. Beginning in September 1929, the BBC — then a radio broadcaster — began (reluctantly) using Baird’s technology to experiment with its first television programming.
Marconi-EMI would develop a superior cathode-ray tube television that “offered many more pictures per second as well as images made of 405 lines – a dramatic improvement on Baird’s 30-line system.”
According to the BBC history of television, moving from theory to practicality occurred during the first third of the 20th century.
The theoretical basis of television – working out how electricity might interact with the photo-sensitive properties of chemicals – had been laid down in France, Germany, Russia, Hungary, and the USA by 1900. But the problem remained of how to break an original image into small sections so that they could be transmitted separately, though simultaneously, before being ‘reassembled’ at a distant receiver.
The RCA National Broadcasting Company (NBC) would introduce regularly scheduled TV broadcasting in the United States in April 1939. World War II would start on 01 September; the U.S. did not enter the war until December 1941.