John Logie Baird and the secret in the box: the undiscovered story behind the world’s first public demonstration of television

Brandon D. Inglis, Gary Douglas Couples

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Abstract

For almost 100 years, researchers have speculated on the means by which John Logie Baird produced the first real-time, reflected-light, grey-scale, moving images (‘television’). This achievement stands out, considering the limitations of the photocell technology that was known in the early 1920’s. To date, no one has reproduced those early television results with replica scanning apparatus without the use of modern photomultiplier semiconductor photocells, and thus, the technology enabling Baird’s achievement has remained a mystery. Television historians generally conclude that Baird used selenium photocells, but we present evidence that he used a thallium sulfide (Thalofide) cell coupled with a novel amplification circuit. While Baird was sensitive to the voices of the scientific community that criticized him for withholding the basis for his breakthrough, he was concerned to protect the full commercial potential of his work, and did not wish to prematurely reveal his methods to corporate competitors.
Original languageEnglish
JournalProceedings of the IEEE
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 13 May 2020

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