GeekHistory

The myths and legends of evil villains Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison

The myths and legends run rampant in the stories of both Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison. They have become legendary, and along with that the mythology gets bigger.

Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison have become the geeks that the world loves to hate. But why all the hate?

A common theme among so called successful people is an obsessive compulsion to succeed. Both were known for being hard driving over bearing bosses, which means they made some enemies and acquired some haters along the road to success. Some people say the success of people like Jobs and Edison came at the expense of their former associates.

The evil Jobs versus mild mannered geek Woz

As much as you want to blame Steve Jobs for the departure of Stephen Gary "Steve" Wozniak, aka Woz, from Apple, Woz has said in many interviews that he enjoyed the technology side of creating Apple but not the business side. He left because he felt the need to move on.

Even though Woz quit working for Apple in 1985, he stayed on the Apple payroll and remained a stock holder for many years. I would say he has done pretty well for himself as Woz has been involved in numerous technology companies over the years since leaving Apple.

The evil Edison versus well meaning inventor Tesla

I've spent many years researching the Edison versus Tesla mythology. The story of Edison offering Tesla $50,000 if he could improve something is told so many different ways, you really have to wonder what is the truth. The story that Edison once electrocuted an elephant stirs up a reason to hate Edison, but if you research it, the facts dispute the story.

I really get frustrated when people say the War of Currents was a battle between Edison and Tesla. George Westinghouse was working on AC power distribution before he met Tesla. When he heard of Tesla's experiments, George Westinghouse not only paid Tesla for his patents, but offered him a job working with him.

Tesla and Westinghouse had a life long respect for each other. When Edison died, Tesla had sharp criticism of Edison. When Westinghouse died, Tesla's comments showed a deep respect for Westinghouse.

Tesla died broke because of Edison?

The mythology tells the story that Tesla died a broken down old man because of Edison, but the truth is that Tesla lived more than 40 years after the War of Currents and his battle against Edison.

Tesla fought a lot with Westinghouse engineers, he had a hard time working on a team. Tesla decided to go back out on his own rather than stay with Westinghouse. Tesla walked away from his association with Westinghouse in the 1890s with a few hundred thousand dollars, the equivalent of millions in today's money.

Tesla received large investments for his experiments in Colorado Springs and Wardencliffe, New York. In both cases Tesla misrepresented his true intent. The wealthy John Jacob Astor IV gave Tesla the money he used to build the Colorado Springs lab in 1899, under the assumption that Telsa was going to develop and produce a new lighting system. Tesla instead, used the money to fund his lab to experiment with high voltage, high frequency electricity, and the wireless transmission of power.

J.P. Morgan thought he was investing in wireless communications when he gave Tesla money to build his dream lab in Wardenclyffe New York in 1901. Tesla failed to mention the lab included his ideas of wireless power transmission. Morgan did not "cut off" Tesla as told by many stories, he simply refused to give Tesla more money when Tesla went way over budget on the project.

In the PBS documentary "Tesla Master of Lightning" Tesla's grand-nephew William Terbo explains the downfall of Nikola Tesla. "He was totally disinterested in business. He did not make the relationship between the importance of business and the importance of his invention and discovery."

Set aside the myths and legends

The tales of the evil Steve Jobs versus the mild mannered geek Woz and the powerful Thomas Edison versus the well meaning inventor Tesla make for good mythology, but every story of success is not an epic battle of good versus evil. Geek History helps you understand and appreciate great inventors and technology innovators and get to the truth behind the myths and legends..

There are lessons to be learned from the stories of Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison, set aside the myths and legends, and learn the reasons for success and failure.

Nikola Tesla versus Thomas Edison and the search for the truth

George Westinghouse used Tesla power to defeat Edison in Currents War

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Early television technology frequently asked questions

As we look at the history of television, I wanted to tackle some of the frequently asked questions about the origins of the technology, as well as share some cool resources on movies and television.

One commonly asked question is why the early televisions had round screens. The television picture tube was a vacuum tube that contains one or more electron guns and a phosphorescent screen used to display images known as a cathode ray tubes (CRT).  When the original cathode ray tube was invented it was an experimental device, television was not yet developed. The natural shape of the cathode ray tube was round, as shown here in the diagram. The cheapest and easiest way to manufacture a CRT was to make it round.

The television picture is created on the surface of the cathode ray tube by drawing it rapidly line by line. The entire front area of the CRT is scanned repetitively and systematically in a fixed pattern. Before 1940 there was no standard in the United States for how the picture was created electronically using the cathode ray tube.

In 1940 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established The National Television System Committee (NTSC) to resolve the conflicts that were made between companies over the introduction of a nation wide analog television system in the United States.  The NTSC standard selected 525 scan lines, an aspect ratio of 4:3, and frequency modulation (FM) for the sound signal. The number of 525 lines was chosen as a because of the limitations of the vacuum-tube-based technologies of the day.

Why an aspect ratio of 4:3?

The term aspect ratio is used in many fields to describe the proportional relationship between width and height, expressed as two numbers separated by a colon. For example when we say that the early televisions had an aspect ratio of 4:3, that means they are 4 units wide and 3 units high.  The early television standard of the 4:3 aspect ratio was chosen because movies in that era were filmed in a 4:3 aspect ratio. Movies originally photographed on 35 mm film could be satisfactorily viewed on early televisions.

Motion pictures, a series of still images which, when shown on a screen, creates the illusion of moving images, or as we sometimes call them, movies, are a different field from television.  But the early days of motion pictures actually set the standard for the concept of aspect ratio, the relationship of height to width of an image. For many years the standard movie screen, as well as the standard analog television, had an aspect ratio of 4:3.  

The evolution of round screens to rectangular

The cheapest and easiest way to manufacture a CRT was to make it round. But the aspect ration of 4:3 lends itself to a more rectangular design. The CRT slowly evolved to being essentially rectangular in shape but it had rounded edges because it was a glass tube. You could not create a perfect rectangle using the process that created the glass cathode ray tubes in the early days of television.

If you look at the photo of various televisions you see a variety of screen sizes as well as shapes, and you can see the evolution of round screens to rectangular. The attached photograph was taken at the National Capital Radio and Television Museum, a cool little geek history museum located in Bowie, Maryland. It is a small house jam-packed with displays on the history of radio and television. The extremely knowledgeable staff was full of stories about everything on display and ready to answer any question. The museum does a great job of preserving technology history.

Increasing the number of channels

During the 1940s and the 1950s broadcast television stations in the United States were primarily transmitted on the VHF band, channels 2-13.  If you live in a large city you will notice the long established stations usually are lower numbered.  Television manufacturers like RCA, ran their own networks, such as NBC. Since the major TV networks were well-established on VHF, many smaller stations on the UHF band, channels 14 to 83, were struggling for survival. Fourth-network operators such as the DuMont Television Network were forced to expand using UHF channels due to a lack of available VHF channels.

In 1961 the United States Congress passed the All-Channel Receiver Act (ACRA) to allow the Federal Communications Commission to require that all television set manufacturers must include UHF tuners. All new TV sets sold after 1964 had built-in UHF tuners.  The All-Channel Receiver Act allowed the UHF TV stations to grow and eventually would outnumber the long established VHF stations.

What happened to Channel 1?

When I was young, and the television had a rotary dial that took me from channels 2 through 13, I always wondered, what happened to channel 1? In 1948, Channel 1 frequencies were deleted from those allocated to television use and given over completely to radio services. The FCC decided not to renumber the channels since many televisions were being made using the existing channel numbers.

History of Television resources

If you want to learn more about television, from the perspective of the appliance that sits in your living room, rather than from the broadcasting side, there is a great pair of videos by RCA.  Reasons Why, The (Part I) (1959) and Reasons Why, The (Part II) (1959) are two videos that can be watched online or downloaded for later viewing. 

Reasons Why, The (Part I)  https://archive.org/details/reasons_why_1

Reasons Why, The (Part II)  https://archive.org/details/reasons_why_2

Classic scenes of geeks from the 1950s showing various facets of television set design, engineering, and quality control. The RCA manufacturing videos are part of a section of the Internet Archive known as the Prelinger Archives, a collection of over 60,000 advertising, educational, industrial, and amateur films.

Created in 1992 primarily to document the history of the Cathode Ray Tube it does a nice job of illustrating the basic concept of the CRT. It also includes a bit of television history showing the evolution of the CRT.

Cathode Ray Tube https://archive.org/details/KF.BraunCathodeRayTube

A propaganda infomercial by RCA to brag about what they have done in the world of television. Not the most historically accurate account of television, but still a very interesting bit of geek history.

Story of Television  Published 1956 https://archive.org/details/Story_of_Television_The

Free online movies great digital library

Spending a Saturday morning at the Internet Archives (archive.org) is like going to the library or your favorite museum, and the best part about it is that you don't need to leave the comfort of your home computer desk.

All of the video files can be viewed for free online, and many are available to be downloaded and viewed offline. The Internet Archive does a decent job of making sure copyrights are not violated.  Most of the files are public domain, but some may occasionally have some restrictions for use and are marked as to how they may be used.  Because copyright laws have changed from time to time over the years, many of the files are considered public domain, or copyright free, for a variety of reasons.

The Internet Archive does a decent job of making sure copyrights are not violated.  Most of the files are public domain, but some may occasionally have some restrictions for use and are marked as to how they may be used.  Because copyright laws have changed from time to time over the years, many of the files are considered public domain, or copyright free, for a variety of reasons.  All of the video files can be viewed for free online, and many are available to be downloaded and viewed offline.

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The Lost and Forgotten DuMont Television Network

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There is a lot of entertainment and television broadcasting history found in the often lost and forgotten fourth television network created by scientist and inventor Allen B. DuMont.

DuMont was an American electronics engineer, scientist and inventor best known for improvements to the cathode ray tube for use in television receivers.  DuMont Laboratories was the primary manufacturer of cathode-ray tubes in the United States in the 1930s and was fairly successful in the manufacturing of TV receivers.

To sell televisions, DuMont started the DuMont Television Network in 1946.  The television broadcasting division of DuMont separated from the manufacturing division in 1955. The DuMont Television Network ceased operations in 1956. The DuMont consumer products manufacturing division would be purchased by Emerson Electric Company in 1958.

The DuMont Television Network had a difficult time competing for big name stars and talent of the day. The big three networks were all spin offs from radio networks which provided financial support for their television divisions. Some folks attribute the failure of the DuMont Television Network on the lack of backing from a radio network.

Growing up, like many baby boomers in the United States, I remember the big three television networks in the 1960s were NBC, ABC, and CBS. Any reference to a fourth network might make me think of PBS.

When making the statement the forgotten fourth network, some people may think that is meant to be a joke about the current fourth television network the Fox Broadcasting Company, rather than a reference to the DuMont Television Network, a functional on the air television network from 1946 to 1956.



Other Fourth Television Networks

Not long after the DuMont Television Network dissolved a part-time television network, NTA Film Network, was created. The NTA Film Network had over 100 affiliate stations and operated from 1956 until 1961.

Interesting that the NTA Film Network had the financial support of Twentieth Century-Fox, the sibling of current fourth television network the Fox Broadcasting Company. The NTA Film Network broadcast television shows as well as movies, showing many Twentieth Century-Fox films of the late 1950s. The company name Twentieth Century-Fox comes from motion picture executive William Fox who founded the Fox Film Corporation in 1915.

There were many other failed fourth television networks over the decades that followed. It wound not be until the launch of the Fox Broadcasting Company in 1986 that a fourth television network in the United States would challenge the the big three television networks as an equal in terms of power and market share.

The forgotten fourth network lives on

Although DuMont pre-dated videotape many programs were saved on kinescope films. The television show archives were stored in a warehouse until the 1970s when the stored kinescopes were loaded into three trucks and dumped into Upper New York Bay.

 A 1996 Hearing Before the Panel of the Library of Congress describes the details of the dumped archives that were destroyed during a legal dispute over who would store and control the recordings.
 
The forgotten DuMont Television Network lives on with many memories of Jackie Gleason and a sketch called "The Honeymooners." 

Jackie Gleason on Cavalcade of Stars

Cavalcade of Stars would become one of the most popular shows on The DuMont Television Network. The show would produce the most famous star of the DuMont Television Network with Jackie Gleason as host and performer.

The Cavalcade of Stars would also be responsible for birth of a well know classic TV show, as a sketch called "The Honeymooners" was first performed on the show. It would later be picked up by the CBS Network as part of the Jackie Gleason Show and become a television classic.

As a history lover, and someone always digging to learn more about the history of technology, I discovered the DuMont Television Network while doing some research on the Internet Archive. If you do a search on the DuMont Television Network at the Internet Archive you will find quite a bit of old videos of station IDs, commercials, and shows from this long lost network.  It is worth the watching and downloading just to see a treasure of television history videos. 

The video of Jackie Gleason on "Cavalcade of Stars" (1951) is a rare find for any history of television fan. The well known sitcom called "The Honeymooners" was based on a sketch first performed on Cavalcade of Stars.

Cavalcade of Stars http://www.archive.org/details/Cavalcade_Of_Stars

One other notable show was Captain Video and His Video Rangers as it was the first science fiction show on television. While by today's standards the series looks pretty primitive, it was quite groundbreaking for the time.

1949 episode of the TV series "Captain Video"  https://archive.org/details/captainvideo

Additional resources to learn more

The Internet Archive is a non-profit organization on a mission to build a digital library. Just like a visit to your favorite museum or traditional paper library, they provide free access to researchers, historians, scholars, and the general public to digital files on a wide variety of topics.

The way of finding things on the Internet Archive can be more like exploring a museum, that searching a catalog at the library.  For example, I was looking for the link to my very groovy 1969 Pontiac GTO Commercial starring 1960s rock band Paul Revere And The Raiders. I searched on Pontiac, and I searched on GTO, and I could not find it.  It was only by going to the link for Car Commercials 1966-1970 that I found the file I was looking for on a long list of files of car commercials.

Most of the files of commercials I found  simply by searching the site rather than using the indexes.  Once you find one type of file you like, you can see how it is tagged and search for similar files. I love cars of the 1950s and 1960s, so I searched and found commercials for the 1957 Edsel, the 1958 push button transmission Dodge, the 1960 Ford Thunderbird, and a very groovy 1969 Pontiac GTO Commercial.

Car Commercials 1966-1970  https://archive.org/details/Car_Commericals_1966-1970

From the Animation and  Cartoons section I have download numerous files of shows I watched on television back in my youth.  Of course my kids think it is all pretty silly, but I get a kick out of cartoon classics like Woody Woodpecker and Betty Boop. There are also some of the classic super hero cartoons like Superman. The quality of the files vary, but I enjoy downloading a bunch and creating my own mix of cartoon classics that I burn to DVD. 

Animation & Cartoons  http://www.archive.org/details/animationandcartoons

Great digital library for fun and researching television history 

The Internet Archive is a great online library of video files. Thousands of files are available to be downloaded and viewed offline. Much like your favorite museum or traditional paper library,  If you love the history of technology, or the history of entertainment, what could be more fun than a vault full of old black and white movies, free for you to download or watch at your leisure.

 

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Who invented Television Philo Farnsworth versus Sarnoff and Zworykin

The invention of television was the work of many inventors over several decades, as we discussed in our previous article. Turning the vision of the television as an invention into a real commercial product that occupied American homes was the work of business visionary David Sarnoff with the help of Russian American scientist Vladimir Zworykin.

Scientist and inventor Vladimir Zworykin

As a young engineering student, Vladimir Zworykin worked for Russian scientist and inventor Boris Rosing and assisted him in some of his laboratory work at the St. Petersburg Institute of Technology in Russia. Following the Russian Revolution, Zworykin moved to the United States in 1919. Zworykin found work with Westinghouse Electric Corporation in Pittsburgh. Based on their pioneering efforts in radio, he tried to convince them to do research in television. His work on television resulted in two patent applications. The first, entitled "Television Systems" was filed on December 29, 1923, and was followed by a second application in 1925 that was awarded in 1928.

Zworykin applied to the physics department at the University of Pittsburgh in 1924. Due to his previous credited work Zworykin received his Ph.D. only two years later upon completion of his dissertation on the improvement of photoelectric cells.

Zworykin demonstrated his invention for television to Westinghouse executives in 1925. According to Zworykin himself his demonstration, was “scarcely impressive.” The Westinghouse executives suggested that Zworykin should spend his time on more practical endeavors.

Business visionary David Sarnoff

In 1917, General Electric purchased the American branch of the Marconi Company and combined its radio patents to form a new company called the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). Russian born David Sarnoff was promoted to General Manager of RCA in 1921 and was given full authority to run the company. In the 1920s David Sarnoff of RCA had the vision of developing television.

In 1929, Zworykin invented the all electric camera tube. Zworykin called his tube the Iconoscope "a viewer of icons". He demonstrated both the iconoscope and kinescope to the Institute of Radio Engineers. The Iconoscope tube could produce good pictures with a reasonable amount of light. In attendance at the demonstration was David Sarnoff of RCA. Sarnoff recruited Zworykin to develop television for RCA, and put Zworykin in charge of television development for RCA at their laboratories in Camden, New Jersey.

Even though many others worked to invent television, and working models were demonstrated before RCA, Sarnoff used the 1939 World's Fair to introduce commercial television to the world, and began regularly scheduled broadcasting at the same time. David Sarnoff realized the potential of television, and poured huge resources into its development, even during the lean years of the depression.  Sarnoff had the drive, and the resources to turn his vision into a reality.

Philo T. Farnsworth fights the war over television

When I was young my encyclopedia told me that Vladimir Zworykin was the inventor of television. For many years I took it as a fact that Zworykin invented television. Thanks to the commercialization of the internet, years later I found a whole new world of information, and discovered that the invention of television was not a simple question to answer, and learned of a battle by the followers of Philo T Farnsworth to promote his cause as the inventor of television.

Philo T. Farnsworth was a Mormon farmer who lived in Utah, not exactly the place for the hot bed of technology. In 1922, a young Farnsworth filled several blackboards in his chemistry class with sketches and diagrams showing his high school science teacher his idea for an electronic television system. Farnsworth received a patent for his television system raised money from friends to build his invention. Many years later that high school teacher would testify in court what he saw on the blackboards of the school, in support of Farnsworth's claims.

David Sarnoff offered to buy Farnsworth's patents in 1931, with the condition that Farnsworth become an employee of RCA. Farnsworth refused Sarnoff's offer, and spend much of the next several years fighting David Sarnoff and RCA in the court room over television patents.

When other developers and their patents got in Sarnoff’s way, he fought them hard. Philo T. Farnsworth was one of the few who stood up to Sarnoff and won. Farnsworth eventually prevailed as RCA finally conceded to a multi-year licensing agreement with Farnsworth. But Sarnoff and RCA would grab the spotlight as RCA introduced electronic television to the world at New York World's Fair 1939.

Who knows of Farnsworth?

Even though Farnsworth won the battle, defeating RCA in court to uphold his patent claims, he lost the war as the Farnsworth Television and Radio Corporation never took off. Farnsworth sold his company to International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) in 1951. Most people have heard of RCA (Radio Corporation of America), they went on to be a large and profitable company. Farnsworth's family continues to promote his name, and his claim to the invention of television.

Zworykin always the scientist.

Decades before NASA landed a man of the moon Vladimir Zworykin talked about the scientific discoveries that could be shared on television, stating that “You can see the opposite side of the moon if someone sends a rocket there with a television camera. " In a 1975 interview Zworykin said he was disappointed with the outcome of television. "Yes. I am not presently satisfied with the programs.... Our programs are commercial, and therefore the income from broadcasting depends upon the number of people viewing. By taking surveys of this, right or wrong, they conclude that lower quality programs appeal to more people."

In their roles at RCA, it was clear that Sarnoff was the visionary businessman and Zworykin was always the scientist. Compared to Microsoft as the 800 pound gorilla of technology of the 1990s, RCA was the 800 pound gorilla of technology of the 1930s. There have been comparisons made to David Sarnoff of RCA as a driving force to establish the dominance of his company in the development of television to that of Bill Gates of Microsoft and his obsession to have Internet Explorer win the browser wars.

Although many people have called Vladimir Zworykin the Father of Television, Zworykin himself always said that television was the creation of hundreds of inventors and researchers. Zworykin seemed not only to be uncomfortable with being called the Father of Television, he also seemed to be unhappy with what became of his work.

 


Top right photo shows Vladimir Zworykin (left) and RCA Chairman David Sarnoff (right) recount early research. Screen capture and cropped by Tom Peracchio from 1956 RCA promotional film about television tracing scientific development of electronic television systems from 1920s to 1950s.

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