Heritage and Culture

John Logie Baird

By Sophie

This week, we celebrate the life and work of John Logie Baird. A Scottish born engineer, Baird spent his life developing the first ever working television.

Baird was born in Helensburgh, on the west coast of Scotland, in 1888. He was unfortunate and suffered from ill health for most of his life, however this did not dampen his love for science and engineering. Showing signs of ingenuity from a young age, Baird rigged up a telephone exchange to connect his bedroom to those of his friends, across the street.

Studying at the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College, his education was interrupted by World War One. He was, however, rejected as unfit for the forces, due to his constant ill health. Instead he served as a superintendent engineer for the Clyde Valley Electrical Power Company. When the war ended, he set himself up with his own business, which had mixed results.

Moving to the South Coast of England, Baird set to work creating a television. This had been a dream of many scientists for decades. The first apparatus he created was made from odds and ends, but by 1924 he had managed to transmit a flickering image across a few feet.

On the 26th January 1926, Baird gave the World's first demonstration of true television, in front of 50 scientists. The following year, his television was demonstrated over 438 miles of telephone line, between London and Glasgow. He formed the Baird Television Development Company and in 1928 they achieved the first transatlantic television transmission, between London and New York, as well as the first transmission to a ship in mid-Atlantic.

Baird also went on to give the first demonstration of both colour and stereoscopic television.

In 1929, Baird was given facilities, from the German post office, to develop an experimental television service. This was based on his mechanical system, which was the only operable one of the time.

Initially, sound and vision were transmitted separately, and only began simultaneous transmission in 1930. By this point Baird's mechanical system had rapidly become obsolete, as technological development by Marconi-EMI took place.

Although Baird had invested in the mechanical system to achieve early results, he had also explored electronic systems from an early stage. A BBC committee of inquiry prompted a side-by-side trial of Marconi-EMI's all-electronic system and Baird's Mechanical one. The electronic system worked on 405 lines, in comparison to Baird's system which worked on 240 lines. Although Baird had been working on electronic systems, his mechanical system was dropped in favour of Marconi-EMI's system.

Baird died on 14 June 1946 in Bexhill-on-Sea in Sussex.