10 First Electricity Milestones


7. First Step towards Modern Electronics – Edison Effect (1883)

Thomas Edison

Image: Thomas Edison

The history of electronics is a story of the twentieth century and three key components—the vacuum tube , the transistor , and the integrated circuit . In 1883, Thomas Alva Edison discovered that electrons will flow from one metal conductor to another through a vacuum . This discovery of conduction became known as the Edison effect. In 1904, John Fleming applied the Edison effect in inventing a two-element electron tube called a diode , and Lee De Forest followed in 1906 with the three-element tube, the triode. These vacuum tubes were the devices that made manipulation of electrical energy possible so it could be amplified and transmitted.


8. First Application of Modern Electronic  – Radiocommunication (1896 – 1901)


Image: Multiple Radio Tuner of Marconi, 1907 – Marconi Collection of the da Vinci Museum, Milano, Italy

The first applications of electron tubes were in radio communications. Guglielmo Marconi pioneered the development of the wireless telegraph in 1896 and long-distance radio communication in 1901. Early radio consisted of either radio telegraphy (the transmission of Morse code signals) or radio telephony (voice messages). Both relied on the triode and made rapid advances thanks to armed forces communications during World War I. Early radio transmitters, telephones, and telegraph used high-voltage sparks to make waves and sound. Vacuum tubes strengthened weak audio signals and allowed these signals to be superimposed on radio waves . In 1918, Edwin Armstrong invented the “super-heterodyne receiver” that could select among radio signals or stations and could receive distant signals. Radio broadcasting grew astronomically in the 1920s as a direct result. Armstrong also invented wide-band frequency modulation (FM) in 1935; only AM or amplitude modulation had been used from 1920 to 1935.


9. First Electronic Television (1927)

Philo Farnsworth first-tv-set

Image: Philo T. Farnsworth demonstrates his new combination radio and television receiving set at the Farnsworth Television Laboratories, Philadelphia, PA, July 1935.

Philo Farnsworth was just a fourteen year old high school student when he came up with the idea that an electron beam could scan pictures back and forth and transmit them to remote screens- in other words, he thought up TV! While such an amazing invention could not be the work of one man alone, figures such as John Logie Baird and Vladimir Zworykin deserve their due, Philo Farnsworth should be commended for his place in history. Born in a log cabin and raised to work hard in the fields, young Farnsworth was fascinated by electrons and electronics, and convinced his science teacher to let him sit in on a senior level electronics course. Throughout his life he would credit this teacher, Justin Tolman, for inspiring and encouraging him, and giving him the information he needed. Tolman thought Farnsworth’s explanation of the theory of relativity was the clearest he’d ever heard, and Farnsworth was only fifteen years old at the time of that explanation!

On September 7, 1927, Farnsworth’s Image Dissector camera tube transmitted its first image, a simple straight line, at his laboratory at 202 Green Street in San Francisco.By September 3, 1928, Farnsworth had developed the system sufficiently to hold a demonstration for the press. In 1929, the system was further improved by elimination of a motor generator, so that his television system now had no mechanical parts. That year, Farnsworth transmitted the first live human images with his system, including a three and a half-inch image of his wife Elma (“Pem”) with her eyes closed (possibly due to the bright lighting required).

Unfortunately a Russian immigrant named Vladimir Zworykin , PhD had the same idea at the same time. He made a patent application in 1923 for the same kind of tube for transmitting electronic data. His employer, David Sarnoff at RCA didn’t want to pay Farnsworth a royalty on the invention and took him straight to court.

Although Zworykin had a patent, there was no evidence he’d made a working transmitter from the design. Farnsworth’s old teacher, Justin Tolman testified on his behalf that not only did he invent the thing while studying under him in high school, Tolman still had the drawings he made of it!

RCA lost, appealed and lost again, and eventually agreed to pay Farnsworth royalties on the invention. WWII came and production of TV sets was halted to support the war effort. By then Farnsworth’s patents were almost expired. RCA snapped them up the moment it could, leaving Farnsworth in the lurch as it launched a publicity campaign touting Sarnoff and Zworykin as the inventors of television! Life went downhill for poor Philo after that. He sunk into depression and alcohol abuse, spent time in psychiatric hospitals and underwent shock treatments. During an appearance on “What’s My Line?” he was asked if he’d invented a mechanical device that caused pain when used. His answer was, “Yes. Sometimes it’s most painful.” Farnsworth didn’t allow television viewing in his home. He said there was nothing good on it that was worthwhile.


10. Evolving of Digital Computation (1940s)

first computer Manchester Mark 1

Image: The first commercial computer,the Ferranti Mark 1, which was delivered to the University of Manchester in February 1951

The era of modern computing began with a flurry of development before and during World War II, as electronic circuit elements replaced mechanical equivalents, and digital calculations replaced analog calculations. Machines such as the Z3, the Atanasoff–Berry Computer, the Colossus computers, and the ENIAC were built by hand using circuits containing relays or valves (vacuum tubes), and often used punched cards or punched paper tape for input and as the main (non-volatile) storage medium.




First Interactive Game (1947)

first interactive game

When people talk about the humble beginnings of video games, the word ‘Pong’ gets thrown around far too much. Pong was an early arcade game that came about in 1972, and was commercially available for home use in 1975, but it certainly wasn’t the first. In actual fact, the first ever interactive electronic game was made 25 years earlier, in 1947. This was just two years after the end of World War II, and the missile displays that were used in the war inspired Thomas T. Goldsmith and Estle Ray Mann to create a missile simulator game on a cathode ray tube. The game used a completely analogue set up to control the CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) beam and to position a red dot on the screen overlay.

2 thoughts on “10 First Electricity Milestones

  1. How can you / whats the reason for avoiding the name Nikola Tesla on a list of electric achievements ?

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