The Impact of Tube Television on the American Culture and Economy

Categories: Television

You may think of a tube television as a relic by today’s standards, but you may have never considered how it works or how it was invented. The inventor of the first electronic television is known as Philo Taylor Farnsworth. His idea came to him as a young boy working on his parents’ farmland in Idaho. As he was looking down a field, he thought that if there was a way to manipulate and organize electrons similar to the organization of a field that an image could be transmitted onto a screen (A&E).

This idea became a reality when Farnsworth successfully broadcasted an image on an electronic television set in 1927; this was done through the use of several technologies he invented, such as the Image Dissector and Cathode Ray Tube. Philo T. Farnsworth is the most influential American in the history of the United States, as his work ethic as a researcher is highly inspirational to those within the field of science, his invention created a new way of global communication that greatly impacted American culture, and his invention helped the United States’ economy through creating an entirely new line of business.

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Philo T. Farnsworth was a great man of science. His work on the electronic television was a constant effort on his part; he was described to have “…dark circles around his eyes because he was working on this invention around the clock” (Flatow). In 1926, Farnsworth’s researcher was backed by 2 investors named Leslie Gorrell and George Everson; the two agreed to pay Farnsworth $200 a month for his full-time commitment to the development of the electronic television.

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With proper funding and a new research facility, Farnsworth assembled a team to help with the development of the electronic television. What makes this story phenomenal, is that their research would be affected but not destroyed by the U.S. Stock Market Crash of 1929.

The two men that funded Farnsworth in 1925 had decided to halt their investment, but Farnsworth did not allow this. Instead, him and his team, “agreed to no pay at all” (Evans, Buckland, & Lefer 336). This action is a great example of Farnsworth’s scientific integrity. He worked to build a machine that would make change; he was not working in this research lab simply for a paycheck. In an interview by NPR, Aaron Sorkin stated that Philo Farnsworth was a true visionary and, “… saw that, one day, every house was gonna have [an electronic television]. And this was gonna be, simply, part of our water supply” (Lunden). He knew that his research was going to change the way that people reflect on themselves; the Chicago Tribune shared this enthusiasm for the invention in an article from 1950 which credited Philo Farnsworth for his invention. This article called electronic television “…one of the biggest and most dramatic industrial achievements in American history” (Electronic).

The recognition of the invention of television as such an influential piece of technology has only continued to be a valid viewpoint throughout the history of America, and all of this should be credited to the man who made it possible: Philo T. Farnsworth. The invention of the television, since its incarnation, has been designed to unite the world. Broadcasts allow for many to share in one experience, and Farnsworth recognized this. While discussing his inspiration in creating such a device for communication, Farnsworth is known to have stated, “If we are able to see people in other countries and learn about our differences, why would there be any misunderstandings? War would be a thing of the past” (Evans, Buckland, & Lefer 334). During the Civil Rights Movement, many African Americans acknowledged the importance of the television as a way of capturing a larger supporting audience.

Jan Whitt quotes Martin Luther King Jr. in stating, “We are here to say to the white men that we no longer will let them use clubs on us in the dark corners. We’re going to make them do it in the glaring light of television.”” The African American community could use television as a means of exposing injustice, and they used it for just that. One such instance was Bloody Sunday, in-which a large group of defenseless African American protestors were attacked by police officers with nightsticks and other weapons. This tragic event was broadcasted and it gained many supporters for the enactment of a law that would truly enforce racial equality in the United States. An encyclopedia entry states, “Because this incident was televised and people around the United States were able to see scenes of defenseless marchers attacked by police brought national support to the movement” (Williams).

This is one such example of the power of Philo Farnsworth’s invention, but it was not the only instance in which it was used to exploit injustice. It is also important to note that racial barriers were broken on television before they were torn down in reality. When asked what he thought about African Americans on television, Ed Sullivan of the then popular Ed Sullivan Show stated, “It’s already been demonstrated that the appearance of a Negro on television can’t hurt sales. We’ve been proving that right along?” (Cooper). Ed Sullivan was a very popular television show host, and he was not afraid of including people of races to perform on his program, so his show did in-fact prove that hosting African Americans on television did not have a negative effect; this would make reaching racial equality one step closer to those that faced prejudice, for it exposed wide audiences to the idea of equality among blacks and whites. It was the technology made by Farnsworth, however, that made all of this possible. A further impact of the electronic television set in American homes may be noted by the influence of programs such as the Ed Sullivan show on American popular culture; in the 1950s, Elvis Presley was a very well-known musician.

Elvis would have not met with such fame if it was not for his infamous appearances on television; these instances were highly controversial, as many adults found Elvis’dances to be completely obscene. Mary Cross explains the importance of these television appearances in stating, “A series of nationally televised appearances, culminating with three performances on Ed Sullivan (starting September 9, 1956) made Elvis inescapable in an era when families gathered in their living rooms to watch television together” (482). By the 1950s, the television was a staple in many homes and its programming was absolutely influential on the opinions of the American public; the “inescapability” of Elvis during the 1950s was only one such instance that fueled the synthesis of American culture with that of American popular culture. Some may think of this as a negative influence, but this is not so. The opinions of many on that of the Vietnam War were swayed after broadcastings that stated the number of Americans the nation was losing in the fight; this turned anti-war counter-culture into a popular view among Americans.

Philo T. Farnsworth’s electronic television may be used for a great number of things, but it is most commonly used for entertainment. Farnsworth “…successfully projected his first image on Sept. 7, 1927” with the use of his newly invented Cathode Ray Tube (Wright). However, the electronic television did not find wide acceptance for many years after the technology had been created. After the Second World War, the television became a household staple; this popularity also meant an increase in the manufacturing of the technology. A 1948 article published by the Chicago Tribune notes this in stating, “Television is moving ahead fast as an important factor in industrial and business life… There are currently 190 companies in the country listed as making television sets…” (Hampson). Farnsworth’s invention did not only prompt television manufacturers to enter the market, as it was necessary for new camera manufacturers to mass produce the equipment that would be used by broadcasting companies.

In order to make it possible for images to be transmitted to an electronic television, Farnsworth created the image dissector; this invention “…transmitted moving images to a receiver” within the television set, and it was this technology that camera manufactures had to put into broadcasting equipment. (Carey). This was of great benefit, as it generated growth within the United States’ post war economy and job market. The invention of the television not only created jobs for many within factories, but it also called for a new need for actors, writers, producers, directors, and cameramen. The name Philo T. Farnsworth is not known by many; he should be hailed as the inventor of the television, but the credit that was due to him was stolen by David Sarnoff. Sarnoff debuted an electronic television set alongside his new broadcasting station, NBC, at the 1939 World’s Fair, and he regarded himself as the inventor of the television (Evans, Buckland, & Lefer 341). After this event, many believed that Sarnoff actually invented the electronic television.

When speaking on behalf of the development of the medium, the director of the Sarnoff library stated the following: “I would give David Sarnoff a great deal of credit because we’re dealing with a technological system that includes more than the hardware that we typically assume is a system. It involves the content, it involves who’s going to pay for it in terms of either advertising or subscription, it involves developing an audience, as well as coordinating all of the engineering and scientific research that goes into developing a system that captures an image, amplifies it, transmits it, picks it up, converts it into an image you can see on your television at home through a tube in which you need specialized phosphors and chemicals” (Flatow).

It was not, however, Sarnoff that took part in any of the research or development of the system known today as the electronic television; Sarnoff was simply the head of the Radio Corporation of America and had no engineering experience. His company, RCA, had indeed developed an electronic television, but it was based off of Farnsworth’s patents. If Sarnoff was to be hailed for anything, it should be for his involvement in launching NBC. Philo T. Farnsworth made the technology through abstract and manifest. No credit should be given to Sarnoff for the invention of the electronic television set, as it is the sole invention of Philo T. Farnsworth. To many individuals, seeing is believing. Philo Taylor Farnsworth did more than just rearrange the modern living room; Farnsworth gave the public a new view on reality with his invention of the electronic television. Philo T. Farnsworth is the most influential American in the history of the United States, as his perseverance and commitment to the development of his invention make up a truly inspirational tale for those within the field of engineering, his creation directly influenced and changed the popular views of America in dramatic ways, and the mass production of his invention allowed a great increase in the United States’ job market by creating several new lines of work for the nation’s citizens.

Works Cited

  • Carey, Charles W., and Friedman, Ian C. “American Entrepreneurs.” American Inventors, Entrepreneurs, and Business Visionaries, Revised Edition. New York: Facts On File, 2010.History Research Center. Web. 24 May 2015. < t farnsworth>.

This is a secondary source. The document is from a book written by Charles Carey and Ian Friedman. This reference lists a great number of American inventors and it praises many of them for their work. This source will be used to identify the technology that Philo Farnsworth used to create the electronic television. It may also be used to identify the early life of Philo Farnsworth if that proves to be necessary.

  • Cross, Mary. 100 People Who Changed 20th-Century America. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC CLIO, 2013. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 23 May 2015

This is a secondary source. The document is a book written by Mary Cross. The source lists 100 individuals that the author believes to have influenced the United States the most. Among this list is Philo T Farnsworth. This book will be used as evidence that Farnsworth is the most influential citizen in the history of the United States, as any televised event holds credit to Farnsworth. There are several instances within this title in-which the influence the person made would not have been possible without the invention of the electronic television.

  • Evans, Harold, Buckland, Gail, and Lefer, David. “Philo T. Farnworth.” They Made America: From the Steam Engine to the Search Engine: Two Centuries of Innovators. New York: Little, Brown, 2004. 334-41. Print.

This is a secondary document. The book was published in 2004 by Little Brown Publishing. It was written by Harold Evans, Gail Buckland, and David Leffer. The book examines what these authors believe to be the men and women that made the United States what it is today. It was only necessary to read to pages on Philo T. Farnsworth for this study, which are from page 334 to 341. The section tells the reader that Farnsworth was a very talented inventor that set the groundwork for the electronic television system. He was troubled by the likes of David Sarnoff and Vladimir Zworykin, whom worked for RCA and were motivated to steal Farnsworth’s invention. This excerpt will be used to examine the commitment Farnsworth had for bringing his invention to the world.

  • “Electronic TV Brainchild of Utah Farm Lad.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923 1963): 1. Sep 18 1950. ProQuest. Web. 24 May 2015.

This is a primary document. The article was published by the Chicago Tribune in 1950. The article gives credit to Farnsworth as the inventor of the electronic television, and this may be used within the essay. Furthermore, this piece hails the television as one of the greatest achievements of American history and that may also be used to prove the claim.

  • Hampson, Philip. “TV Plays Vital Role In City’s Business Life.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963): 1. Sep 19 1948.ProQuest. Web. 24 May 2015.

This is a primary document. It was published in 1948. This article examines the influence of the electronic television on the job market within the United States. This may be used within the essay to prove the claim, as it credits Philo Farnsworth’s invention with creating a surge in number of jobs available in the United States. This makes Farnsworth’s invention responsible for aiding the U.S. economy after the Second World War, and that makes him very influential on its history.

  • Flatow, Ira. “Analysis: Philo Farnsworth And The Invention Of Television.” Talk Of The Nation/Science Friday (NPR) (n.d.):Newspaper Source. Web. 23 May 2015.

This is a primary document. It is a conversation between NPR correspondent Ira Flatow and several others. The main topic of discussion in this document is Farnsworth’s invention of the electronic television. This document also examines whether or not Farnsworth should be credited for making the electronic television. This document provides great background, and it also presents a basis to make a counter-argument on. It will be used for both of these things.

  • Lunden, Jeff. “Aaron Sorkin Gives ‘Farnsworth Invention’ Its Due.” NPR. NPR, 4 Dec. 2007. Web. 20 May 2015.

This is a primary document. It is an interview between playwright Aaron Sorkin and an NPR representative. In this document, Sorkin explains the story of Farnsworth’s invention. He also talks about the play he made based on the dramatic events within the invention of the electronic television. This document will be used within the essay to depict Farnsworth as a great visionary, as Sorkin does a great job of conveying this.

  • Cooper, Morton. Special to, the Defender. “How to Get More Negroes on Television.” Chicago Daily Defender (Daily Edition) (1960-1973): 11. Dec 06 1962. ProQuest. Web. 20 May 2015.

This is a primary document. It was published by the Chicago Defender in 1962. The article includes an interview with Ed Sullivan. Sullivan was a popular TV show host, and his influence on American popular culture in the mid-20th century was phenomenal. The author of this piece asks Sullivan many questions about African Americans, and Sullivan proves to support their involvement in television programs; he even goes as far as to say that his show is one that has proven there are no negative effects of putting African Americans on-air. This document will be used to develop a connection between television and the acceptance of American Americans in entertainment. This document may also be used to demonstrate the great influence of the electronic television on American popular culture.

  • “Philo Farnsworth.” A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 14 May 2015.

This document is a secondary source. It was published online on It may be used to identify the early life of Philo Farnsworth. In addition, this source will be helpful in identifying his major accomplishments.

  • Whitt, Jan. “Equal Time: Television and the Civil Rights Movement.” Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 90.3 (2013): 607-10. ProQuest. Web. 24 May 2015.

This is a secondary source. This document is a commentary on a book by Aniko Bodroghkozy. This piece talks about Bodroghkozy’s book in-detail, and it addresses the claim that the rise of the television and the Civil Rights Movement were related occurrences; Whitt agrees with Bodroghkozy in the end. The document will be used to prove that television was a vital part in making the struggle for equal rights less of a hardship. There is a quote within this document by Martin Luther King Jr. that will be especially useful in connecting this document to my claim.

  • Williams, Hettie V. “Bloody Sunday.” The American Mosaic: The African American Experience. ABC-CLIO, 2015. Web. 20 May 2015.

This is a secondary source. The article is taken from an encyclopedia. The specific entry is written by Hettie Williams. The article provides the reader with the context needed to understand the causes and events leading to Bloody Sunday. It also explains the events that unfolded at the actual event. Bloody Sunday was a televised event, but it could not have been televised if Farnsworth never invented the electronic television. For this reason, this document will be used to identify how the invention of the electronic television aided the Civil Rights Movement.

  • Wright, Andy. “Philo T. Farnsworth Statue.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 07 May 2011. Web. 20 May 2015.

This is a primary source. It was published by The New York Times in 2011, and it commemorates Philo Farnsworth for inventing the electronic television. The author of this piece talks about the history of Farnsworth’s invention as well as the impact. This source may be used to identify the events leading to Farnsworth’s invention. This may also prove to be useful in identifying why Farnsworth should be celebrated for his invention of the electronic television.

Cite this page

The Impact of Tube Television on the American Culture and Economy. (2021, Sep 27). Retrieved from

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