As one of the oldest scientific institutions in the U.S., The Franklin Institute has many claims to fame. But did you know about this one? It was the location of the first full-scale demonstration of television anywhere in the world.
Over 20 days in the summer of 1934, 28-year-old inventor Philo T. Farnsworth demonstrated his remarkable invention from throughout the Institute, filming all over the building, from the roof to the auditorium. His actions caused quite a stir in Philadelphia—a line of visitors circled the Franklin, ready to pay the 75-cent admission charge.
On August 25, 1934, Farnsworth delivered another first from the Franklin, this time from the front lawn: the first ever live televising of a football game. Farnsworth used his system to “broadcast” the game to an audience inside the museum.
Television, of course, went on to become a staggering success, nearly ubiquitous in American homes. And sports broadcasting became a huge industry in its own right. In 2015, more than 114 million people watched the Super Bowl—the single largest television event in history.
Who was Philo Farnsworth?
The electronic television was invented by someone who didn’t even have electricity for the first 12 years of his life. Philo Taylor Farnsworth was born near Beaver, Utah, in 1906 to a farmer and his wife and spent his early childhood in a log cabin. In 1918 his family moved to Idaho and a home wired for electricity—and the rest is history.
Farnsworth came up with the idea that would later become television in his high-school chemistry class. His innovation: to replace the mechanical parts in television experiments of the time with all electric components. It worked, and in 1929, he wrote the first patents for his television system.
During his life, Farnsworth made many other inventions, including submarine detection devices, an infrared telescope, a process to sterilize milk with radio waves, and more. He was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame in 1984 and the Television Hall of Fame in 2013, though his most colorful recognition came from the animated series Futurama, which named a character (Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth) after him. Farnsworth died of pneumonia in 1971 at age 64.