The man commemorated by Google in the company’s January 25 doodle invented the mechanical television, a precursor to TV as we know it. Scottish inventor John Logie Baird first transmitted the image of his business partner Daisy Elizabeth Gandy via mechanical television on January 25, 1926, in London. That moment is regarded as the first public demonstration of the television, or as it was known then, the televisor.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Baird Went on to Invent the Color Television
Modern televisions work by images created by electronic scanning. Baird’s invention worked worked more like a radio with a “rotating mechanism attached that could generate a video to accompany the sound,” according to a Daily Telegraph article on the first mechanical television. He debuted his invention in a laboratory in the London neighborhood of Soho to a journalist and a group of engineers. The reporter wrote at the time:
The image as transmitted was faint and often blurred, but substantiated a claim that through the ‘televisor,’ as Mr Baird has named his apparatus, it is possible to transmit and reproduce instantly the details of movement, and such things as the play of expression on the face…
It has yet to be seen to what extent further developments will carry Mr Baird’s system towards practical use.
It was mass produced, with Baird’s patent, and put on the market in 1929. However, by the 1930s, the electronic television began to outsell the older model. Like all great inventors, Baird simply adapted and in 1944, he gave the first public demonstration of the color TV.
2. He Was Rejected by the British Army for Service in World War 1 for Health Reasons
Baird was a college student at the University of Glasgow when World War 1 broke out in 1914. He was at the time engaged in socialist politics, influenced by his need to work to maintain his education. When he volunteered to join the army after the outbreak of war, Baird was told he was unfit for service due to ill-health. In order to help the war effort, he instead went to work for the Clyde Valley Electrical Power Company where Baird helped to make munitions.
3. A Newspaper Editor Threw Baird Out of His Office When the Inventor Began to Talk About His Invention
In 1925, Baird attempted to go public about the work he was doing on the television. He went to the offices of the Daily Express newspaper to talk about his plans. The editor at the time was unimpressed with the invention and said, “For God’s sake, go down to reception and get rid of a lunatic who’s down there. He says he’s got a machine for seeing by wireless! Watch him – he may have a razor on him.” By 1927, Baird was able to transmit images from London to Glasgow, some 438 miles. Then, in 1928, he made the first television programs for the BBC and had been able to transmit images across the Atlantic ocean.
During his creative process, Baird used a ventriloquist dummy known as Stooky Bill in his experiments on television.
4. He’s the Only Deceased Person to Be a Subject on ‘This Is Your Life’
Among the many honors that Baird was afforded in his life, Baird was the only deceased subject of the TV show This Is Your Life. The program, which celebrates the lives of celebrities, was aired in 1957 hosted by Irish TV presenter Eamonn Andrews. A television was placed in the chair where the celebrated guest would normally sit. In a book on Baird’s life by his son Malcolm and author Antony Kamm, a short segment is dedicated to the This Is Your Life episode, it reads:
Among those who contributed to the program were [Sydney] Moseley, [Benjamin] Clapp, and [William Edward] Taynton. This is the only time the long-running series had ever featured someone no longer living. The program closed with a tribute in verse by Christopher Hassall, poet, dramatist, and librettist, who had composed the lyrics for Ivor Novello’s Glamorous Night in 1935.
5. He Was Married to a Renowned Concert Pianist Named Margaret Albu
In 1931 Baird married renowned South African concert pianist Margaret Albu at the Half Moon Hotel in Coney Island, Brooklyn. He had been on a speaking tour in the United States and contracted a bout of flu. A friend suggested he invite Albu to the U.S. to lift his spirits. Taking things a step further, Baird proposed marriage to her over the phone. The couple were married in front of a judge Murray Hearn on November 13, 1931. He was 19 years older than Albu. They would stay together and have two children before his death in 1946. Baird had been suffering from ill health during World War II and succumbed to a stroke.
In the book by her son on Baird, it’s written that after her husband’s death she fell into a deep depression. She was lifted out of it by “religious teachings” despite not subscribing to any particular faith.