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Truth Will Out

July 8th, 2016 | No Comments | Posted in Schubin Cafe


A Capitol Fourth

A Capitol Fourth is one of the longest-lasting shows on PBS and is said to be the highest rated. It’s an extraordinary undertaking, with stars from virtually every genre of music performing live both in front of a huge crowd on the west lawn and steps of the U.S. Capitol building and, simultaneously, on TV stations across the country. On the engineering end, the show entails an enormous performance tent for the National Symphony Orchestra, giant screens, transmission links for cameras as far as kilometers away, audio setups for different performers on different stages (ranging from soft-voiced singers to marching bands to the cannons that punctuate Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture). The credits even include a meteorologist, who determines whether it’s safe for the show to go on.

On July 4 this year, the weather was safe but not good. Host Tom Bergeron kept hyping the upcoming fireworks, and an on-screen graphic noted the minutes and seconds to go before the first blast. Unfortunately, the cloud ceiling was low, and little more could be seen of the starbursts than a colored glow in the sky. So the show resorted to clearer pre-recorded fireworks, creating a minor scandal. A tweet from the show’s account said, in part, “It was the patriotic thing to do.”

John AdamsThat’s probably true. After the second Continental Congress passed the resolution of independence, John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, that that glorious “Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance…. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations… from this Time forward forever more.” So fireworks (“illuminations”) are part of the patriotic commemoration.

There’s just one problem: Adams sent his letter to Abigail on July 3, which was the day after the resolution of independence was passed, “The Second Day of July 1776.” That was “independence day.” What happened on July 4 was just the approval of the wording of the commonly read declaration. Those complaining about the old fireworks in A Capitol Fourth didn’t seem to care that the actual 240th anniversary of U.S. independence occurred two days earlier.

Television at the New York World's Fair in 1939The history of television technology is more obscure than the history of the United States, but it, too, has its erroneous myths and legends.  Years before all-electronic television was “introduced” at the New York World’s Fair in 1939, for example, it had already been broadcast in London.  Long before that, the first regularly scheduled television news broadcasts began in Schenectady, New York, using so-called “mechanical” scanning. Philo Farnsworth demonstrated the first scanned, all-electronic television system, but even that idea was published much earlier by someone else. And, if the term “scanned” is dropped, the first crude all-electronic television images were seen no later than 1879 (though the word television wasn’t coined until 1900).

Big Bain patentWhen did television start? It’s really impossible to say. It depends on definitions of television and start, among other things. The concept of scanning for image transmission was patented in 1843 by Alexander Bain, which the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences recognized with an Emmy award this year. That’s one important principle of television. Even more important, perhaps, is the concept of converting variations in light intensity into an electronic video signal—opto-electronic transduction.

Few television histories mention the discovery of a photoelectric effect by 19-year-old Edmond Becquerel in 1839. That’s actually as it should be. Although Becquerel’s discovery was published at the time in major scientific journals, no one seemed to know what do do with it. When Becquerel, himself, demonstrated an electrical image transmission system to the French Academy of Sciences two decades later, he did not suggest any optical input for it; the images had to be drawn in insulating ink on a conductive surface.

AgamemnonMany television histories mention Joseph May, Willoughby Smith, and George R. Carey, and all are significant but not necessarily for who they supposedly were, what they are said to have done, or when they allegedly did it. May has been called an Irish telegraph clerk. That description probably stems from a report in Nature of a lecture given by Charles William Siemens to the Royal Institution of London in 1876—a very important talk. According to the report, knowledge of the photoconductivity of selenium was the result “of an observation made first by Mr. May, a telegraph clerk at Valentia,” Ireland. Siemens did attribute the observation to May and did put it in Valentia, but he never called him a clerk.

In fact, May, who had previously served as an assistant to the “electrician” (what we would today call electrical engineer) in charge of the laying of the first transatlantic telegraph cable, was in 1866 put in charge of the electrical department of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company (Telcon) at the factory in Greenwich, England, where the second transatlantic cable had been manufactured. During the laying of the first cable, May served on the cable ship Agamemnon; for the second, he was at the European terminus in Valentia, while his boss, Willoughby Smith, served on the cable ship Great Eastern.

Willoughby Smith imageAfter the failure of the first cable, Smith was charged with ensuring the health of the second. A cable—even one made of copper—thousands of kilometers long has a high resistance, so Smith wanted a comparably resistive material for making his measurements. After trying layers of tinfoil separated by gelatine and finding the combination unstable, Smith decided to try crystalline selenium.

We might never know why Siemens attributed the discovery of selenium’s photoconductivity to May. Those who attribute it to Smith can use his own writing as a reference. “In my experiments with this substance, I was at first sorely puzzled” about its changing resistance, he wrote. “On investigation, this proved to be owing to the resistance of selenium being affected by the slightest variation in the rays of light falling upon it.”

They were his experiments, because he designed them. But he had his staff conduct them. According to the most recently available information, the discovery was actually made in 1872 by Telcon worker John E. Mayhew at the company’s facility at Enderby Wharf, Greenwich, where the company, its predecessors, and its successors have continuously been manufacturing underwater cables since 1857 (and, for six years before that, next door). It is currently operating as Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Networks (below). Mayhew informed May who informed Smith of the discovery.

Telcon today

Smith deserves his place in television histories. Not only did he choose to test selenium and design experiments to prove its photoconductivity (as opposed to, say, sensitivity to heat or current), but he also chose to inform the world about it. On February 4, 1873, he sent a letter to Latimer Clark, a colleague in the Society of Telegraph Engineers (today the Institution of Engineering and Technology), and asked him to read it at a society meeting. It set off almost a chain reaction as scientists and engineers tried to prove or disprove Smith’s findings.

One of those was Werner von Siemens, William’s brother. On February 18, 1876, almost exactly three years after Smith’s findings were reported, William gave that fateful lecture to the Royal Institution about his brother’s work. And, at the end of it, he showed something that precipitated the advent of television research. But Siemens appears in almost no television history. The reason might be an article about television published in Discovery magazine in 1928.

1912 Campbell SwintonThe article was written by Alan Archibald Campbell Swinton, the person who described all-electronic scanned television in Nature in 1908 before Philo Farnsworth was two years old. It began with a short history, which included a mention of the television experiments of George R. Carey of Boston, possibly the first person to use the word camera to describe an electronic device. And it said Carey’s work was in 1875. If so, the 1876 Siemens lecture couldn’t possibly have influenced him.

The 1875 date was erroneous and was debunked by the great television historian George Shiers in his paper “Historical Notes on Television Before 1900,” which appeared in the SMPTE Journal in March 1977. Perhaps it had been dictated, and a nine was misheard as a five; the earliest published information on Carey’s work was in 1879. But recently his unpublished, but witnessed, notebooks were acquired by The Karpeles Manuscript Library Museums. Through their courtesy, below are two images from Carey’s notebooks. The first is dated January 1877, which is the earliest known date for television research. The second mentions as the source of his inspiration an article on page 374 of the December 9, 1876 issue of Scientific American.

Carey date

Carey idea

What was the subject of that article? It was something shown at the end of the Siemens lecture. “Before concluding,” he said, “I wish to introduce to your notice a little apparatus, which I have prepared to illustrate the extraordinary sensitiveness of my brother’s selenium preparations and an analogy between its action and that of the retina of our eye.” With that introduction, Siemens showed a device with a selenium “retina,” lens, and even “eyelids.” “Here we have then an artificial eye, which is sensible to light and to differences of color, which shows the phenomenon of fatigue if intense light is allowed to act for a length of time, and from which it recovers again by repose in keeping the eyelids closed.”

Artificial EyeAt best, it was a one-pixel camera, but the idea of even that in 1876 was so extraordinary that it was picked up by journals, newspapers, and magazines around the world, from The Great Bend Weekly Tribune in Kansas to the Bruce Herald in New Zealand. It might be the single most-famous invention you’d never heard of. And Carey wasn’t the only person inspired to begin television research based on that lecture. Adriano de Paiva in Portugal and Constantin Senlecq in France also mentioned the Siemens eye, as did still-picture-transmission researcher Carlo Perosino in Italy. Whether it was called an artificial eye, occhio selenico, œil artificiel, ojo artificial, or olho artificial, it appeared in reports of much of the early television research. Prior to 1877, there does not appear to be a single mention of anything that could be considered a video camera, not even in fantasy or fiction; in 1877, at least eight people, in multiple countries, on both sides of the Atlantic, began work on or mentioned something like it.

The Siemens artificial eye might not have been television’s start, but it certainly got the ball rolling.

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Where Are We Going, & How Did We Get Here (The Past) by Mark Schubin

June 1st, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Download, Schubin Cafe

Recorded during “An Evening with Mark Schubin” at the SMPTE New England Section, Dedham Holiday Inn on May 14, 2015.

Learn the extraordinary history of the technology of motion pictures and television. Did you know that the first live video images and the first projected photographic motion pictures were both in the same year, and that year was 1879? That horizontal scanning lines, pixels, and transmitter/receiver synchronization was patented in 1843? That photographic motion pictures were patented in 1852 (and were stereoscopic)? If that’s not enough, Mark promises to show some older moving images — much older. Much, much, much older.

Direct Link ( 114 MB /  TRT 48:00):
Where Are We Going, & How Did We Get Here (The Past) by Mark Schubin


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The Bain of Our Existence

March 2nd, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Schubin Cafe

Bain from STE 1874 Latimer Clark donation cropped

As is the case for most technologies, television had no single “inventor.” But then there’s the amazing Alexander Bain.

Consider: 1939 August 26 Reds v. Dodgers at Ebbets mobile unitThe first major-league baseball game to be televised was played between the Cincinnati Reds and the Brooklyn Dodgers on August 26, 1939. If one believes that television was introduced at the New York World’s Fair that year a few months earlier, it didn’t take long to get from that introduction to sports coverage. In fact, there was even experimental coverage of a game between Princeton and Columbia Universities on May 17.

1931_Nov-Dec_TV_NEWS - Japan Baseball coverOf course, that’s a very U.S.-centered view of history. Regularly scheduled television broadcasting began in London in 1936 (or even earlier, depending on definitions). As for the first baseball game to be televised, that was in Tokyo in 1931.

Even in the U.S., 1931 saw the first TV shows with original scripts. Regularly-scheduled news telecasts began in Schenectady, New York in 1928. In London, the first public demonstration of a television system capable of depicting a recognizable human face was in 1926, and the first public demonstration of a cruder television system was in 1914.

eyeSiemens10An all-electronic television system was described in the publication Nature in 1908, following the patenting of an electronic picture display in 1907. The word television, itself, was coined in 1900 to describe the many moving-image transmission systems created by that point.

What has been called “the master television patent” — certainly the first patent for a complete television system — was issued in Germany in 1885. The first crude television pictures were seen by 1879. Multiple television systems were described between a demonstration of an “artificial eye” in 1876 and those first crude video pictures of 1879. And before that?

Nothing. Not even science fiction or fantasy. The closest description might be in a tale, offered by Sir Walter Scott in 1828, of a mysterious mirror that saw not only into the distance but also into the past (although it could produce images for no more than seven minutes).

Why did the concept of television suddenly appear in the 1870s? It began, perhaps, with the seemingly appropriately named Wildman Whitehouse.

AgamemnonIn one version of a common joke, a surgeon with a defective lamp calls an electrician, who arrives, works for a moment, fixes the lamp, and presents a bill. “This is outrageous!” the surgeon declares. “I’m a surgeon, and I don’t get paid as much as that.” The electrician replies, “When I was a surgeon, I didn’t get as much, either.”

Whitehouse was a surgeon who became an electrician. As the latter, he came up with a plan to use high voltage to force telegraph messages through the long transatlantic cable of 1858. Whether it was that high voltage or, as later research suggests, flaws of manufacture, the cable failed.

Willoughby Smith imageSo, for its replacement, telegraph engineer Willoughby Smith designed an apparatus to monitor its health. But John Mayhew discovered unusual variations in its readings, seeming to have something to do with light intensity. Smith conducted experiments to prove that the selenium resistors used were photoconductive and wrote to Latimer Clark about it in 1873. Clark informed the Society of Telegraph Engineers (STE), to which he, Smith, and Whitehouse all belonged, along with such other notables as William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin, for whom the K in “3200K” is named) and William Siemens. After much debate and publicity, the Siemens artificial eye appeared, followed by many television proposals. As for the STE, they became the Institution of Electrical Engineers, today the Institution of Engineering and Technology, one of the six partners who produce the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC) each year.

Many television histories begin with the photoconductivity discovery or Smith’s experiments, and there’s no question that, as publicized by the STE, they kicked off the efforts to create television. What’s odd, however, is that they weren’t the first. Long before even the first transatlantic cable, in 1839 Edmond Becquerel published in the journal of the French Academy of Science his research that sunlight could create an electrical current. At the time, it seemed just another interesting scientific phenomenon. No one made the leap from that to television.

Bain Wick plaqueThe reason television research began after Smith/Clark and not Becquerel is that, by the time of the discovery of the photoconductivity of selenium, the world was already accustomed to image transmission, and the reason for that was Alexander Bain. There were actually two famous Alexander Bains born in Scotland in the early 19th century. The one who might be considered the father of television (and almost all other forms of electronic imaging) was born in Watten in 1810 and apprenticed to a clock maker in Wick. After hearing a lecture about electricity, he abandoned his apprenticeship and went off to work in the new field.

He worked in both telegraphy and timekeeping, sometimes combining the two. In 1843, while living in London, he received a patent for “Certain improvements in producing and regulating electric currents, and improvements in electric time pieces, and in electric printing and signal telegraphs.” He later said he came up with the idea in 1842. A drawing from his 1848 U.S. patent (5957) is shown below.

Big Bain patent

Bain appears to have been the first to conceive of image scanning. In one fell swoop, he came up with linear (horizontal) scanning lines, pixels, line synchronization, and frame synchronization, all for image transmission. As John Douglas Ryder and Donald G. Fink (the latter the secretary of the U.S. National Television System Committees, NTSC) put it in their 1984 IEEE Press book Engineers & Electrons: a century of electrical progress, Bain’s “concept embodied all the geometrical and timing methods of the modern television system.”

Bakewell-Tape-1850 trimmedJust as the 1873 announcement of the photoconductivity of selenium opened the floodgates for television proposals, Bain’s patent 30 years earlier brought on a flood of proposals for what we might today call fax machines. At right is an image transmitted a long distance in 1850 using a system that created negative images at the receiver.

Caselli_pantelegraph_imageCommercial fax service began in France in 1865 using Bain’s scanning technique. The biggest problem was that the faxes had to be drawn or written with insulating ink. That didn’t stop opera composer Gioacchino Rossini from transmitting a page of music from Paris to Amiens in 1860. By 1863, faxes were even transmitted in color! But some sort of system for converting variations in light intensity to electrical signals was seemingly necessary to transmit photographic images, and that’s what the Smith/Clark 1873 announcement of the photoconductivity of selenium offered.

The fundamental concepts of television were then in place: image scanning and the conversion of light variations to electrical signals. It was already known that wires would glow at different brightnesses depending on the amount of current flowing through them. The rest was just engineering.

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When Did We Come From?

December 5th, 2010 | 1 Comment | Posted in Schubin Cafe


NPR’s On the Media has been my favorite news show. They explain the how and why of media issues, debunk myths, and correct errors — even their own. When it comes to media technology, however — especially its history — they sometimes get things wrong and don’t correct the errors. Examples of those uncorrected errors may be found in a segment of their August 13 show. It was called “Does Science Fiction Predict the Future of Journalism?”

Much of the segment was amazing and true. Consider this question: Who invented the 24-hour media news cycle? The common answer is CNN.  They began transmitting 24-hour news in 1980. Even the Internet’s World-Wide Web is younger. But who says news has to come via computer or TV? All-news radio in the U.S. is about two decades older than CNN.

How about something even older? Well, there was Le Grand Pan. It provided news 24 hours a day on a subscription basis (though some attempted to use it without paying for the privilege). It was born in 1846.

1846 Le Grand Pan trimmed

As can be seen in the image above, Le Grand Pan was a newspaper — a continuous newspaper — or, actually, just the idea of a continuous newspaper. It appeared in Émile Souvestre’s book “Le monde tel qu’il sera. Wesleyan University Press brought out the first English translation, “The World as It Shall Be,” in 2004.

The idea was that, riding on rollers, the newspaper would run through the city visiting subscribers, a belt conveying continuous news. Symbols would help readers quickly identify articles in which they were interested. Non-payers would run alongside the belt.

Souvestre was a speculative-fiction writer, and, even if Le Grand Pan doesn’t seem particularly predictive, other aspects of the novel are. There’s a hilarious scene, for example, in which someone gets a glass of water. It involves a several-hundred-page water menu and an itemized bill charging separately for the water and its glass, and it seems as though it might have come from a humor column in this week’s issue of The New Yorker.

The continuous newspaper dreamt up in 1846 is an example of the accurate information in On the Media’s story. Unfortunately, the segment soon veered into the realm of error. After the guest mentioned “news on television and interactivity,” the interviewer said, “We should stipulate this is fully 100 years before television.” And the guest replied, “Exactly, right. And the illustrations in the novel show people looking at a screen in their homes.”

robida TV prediction

Sure enough, above is one of those views of people watching TV at home. The caption may be translated as “The Television News.” But there’s a problem.

The image above did not appear in any edition of Souvestre’s book. In fact, there is no mention, illustration, or other hint of anything even remotely like television in the 1846 book. The interviewer’s next question — after the remarks about television — introduced the artist of the drawing above and the author of the book in which it appeared: “Albert Robida wrote ‘The Twentieth Century’ in 1887. What was his vision?”

In fact, that book was first published in French as Le Vingtième Siècle in 1882, but that’s a minor point. The major point is that 1882 (let alone 1887) is in no way “fully 100 years before television.” Even the 1846 date isn’t.

1939 Worlds Fair TV-resized-600

U.S. commercial television broadcasters were licensed in 1941. That followed the standards of the first National Television System Committee (NTSC) and RCA’s big TV introduction at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, shown above. And the BBC had been broadcasting all-electronic pictures in what was then called “high-definition television” since 1936.

Television news, however, had been around considerably longer. Kolin Hager, general manager of what is today called WRGB, began regularly scheduled television newscasts on that station on May 10, 1928 That’s just 46 years after the first edition of Robida’s book, nowhere near “fully 100 years.”  And that’s not the only problem.

Here’s the premise of the On the Media segment, taken from their transcript:

Guest: “I started reading futurists, and then I started reading [LAUGHING] science fiction writers. I decided that the science fiction writers probably were more worth reading than the futurists.”

Interviewer: “Because, as you quote Ben Bova observing in your piece, ‘Futurists could not have predicted the transistor because there wasn’t any science to underlie it back in the early days of the last century.'”

Unfortunately for that point of view, in the field of television there was plenty of science that predated the fiction.

1889 Verne telephotSome believe the earliest prediction of television was made in a story by Jules Verne. The “telephote” appears in the very first paragraph and is described later as a mechanism for the transmission of live images.

There is much dispute about the story. Some say it was written by Jules Verne, others by his son, Michel, and still others by both. In one history, it was originally written by Michel and published in English in The Forum, then modified by Jules and published in French. That could explain why the journalist talking to his wife (left) via phonotelephote is called either Francis Bennett or Fritz Napoleon Smith.

The English title of the story is “In the Year 2889.” In French it is “La journée d’un journaliste américain en 2890.” Given that the action takes place a thousand years in the future, the date on which the story was published was 1889 (or 1890 for the French version), after Robida’s book. So that couldn’t have been the first indication of television.

Verne did write an earlier book, Paris au XXe siècle [Paris in the 20th Century], in which image transmission is mentioned. It was written in 1863 but not published until 1994 because it was rejected by his publisher at the time. And there’s no question that it was written before any currently known scientific work on television.

1861 Caselli_pantelegraph_imageUnfortunately, the image transmission in Paris in the 20th Century isn’t television, it’s fax. And by 1863 multiple fax machines had been demonstrated (a patent had been issued for one in 1843). At right is a fax from the 1860s transmitted via Giovanni Caselli’s pantélégraphe, the first commercially successful fax machine. In his novel, Verne even credited Caselli by name with the invention.

Le Grand Pan, too, had a real-world technological basis. The continuous rolling newspaper created by Souvestre in 1846 followed closely the announcement of the invention of continuous-roll wood-pulp-based newsprint paper in Canada (by Charles Fenerty) and Germany (by Friedrich Gottlob Keller) in 1844.

As for television, there’s no question that it was described in Robida’s 1882 book. But, as I noted in a previous post, a scientific booklet about the subject had been published in English, French, and Portuguese in 1880 And that’s not all. Here’s a letter about television that appeared in the February 7, 1879 issue of  English Mechanic and World of Science (as depicted on André Lange’s superb history-of-television site

1879 Redmond

Wesleyan University Press brought out the first English version of Robida’s The Twentieth Century in 2004, with translation, introduction, and critical materials by Philippe Willems and edited by Arthur B. Evans. Here are the first two sentences from the second footnote in Part One, Chapter 5, the chapter that introduces television (as the “telephonoscope”):

“The realism in this description originates from the fact that Robida’s anticipation was not as far-fetched as it may appear today. Long before the appearance of television sets, the concept behind the transmission of images had been developing alongside that of the telegraph and telephone throughout the century.”

In fact, in his paper, “Historical Notes on Television Before 1900,” published in the March 1977 issue of the Society of Motion-Picture and Television Engineers Journal, George Shiers provided bibliographic references for 15 articles about television technology published in scientific and popular-science periodicals prior to Robida’s 1882 book. But was Robida the first science-fiction writer to “predict” television?

In fact, its earliest “prediction” by a science-fiction writer (excluding earlier fantasies involving magic mirrors and the like) was probably by George du Maurier, creator of Svengali and author of The Martian. His version appeared on December 9, 1878, in Punch’s Almanack for 1879, as “Edison’s Telephonoscope.”

1878 Edison_Telephonoscope trimmed

It wasn’t intended as a prediction (it was accompanied by an illustration of “Edison’s Anti-Gravitation Under-Clothing”, which may be seen at the end of this earlier post: Nevertheless, spoof or not, it clearly shows the transmission of a video image. Was there any science on which to base the fiction?

As a matter of fact, there was. An article on Constantin-Louis Senlecq’s Télectroscope appeared in La science pour tous [Science for All] before du Maurier’s Telephonoscope. The 1880 multi-language booklet about television was based on an article by Adriano de Paiva that appeared in O Instituto in March 1878. An item called Le télectroscope, un appareil pour transmettre à distance les images (The telectroscope, an apparatus for transmitting images at a distance) appeared in the 1877 edition of L’année scientifique et industrielle (The Year in Science & Industry), published by Louis Figuier in 1878.

eyeSiemens10Those 1878 publications were preceded by a letter to the editor of The [New York] Sun, published on March 29, 1877, signed only “Electrician,” describing “the electroscope,” “by means of which objects or persons standing or moving in any part of the world may be instantaneously seen anywhere and by anybody.” Some consider that letter to be, if not science fiction, a hoax, but even it was preceded by a demonstration by Charles William Siemens and his brother Werner of an artificial eye (left) at Britain’s Royal Institution on February 18, 1876, an event written up that year in such eminent publications as Nature and Scientific American as well as others from Russia to New Zealand. And, in one of several reports on Senlecq’s telectroscope, Scientific American reported that it was developed early in 1877 and that its specification “appeared in all the continental and American scientific journals.”

Names like “telectroscope” and “telephonoscope” were used because the word television wouldn’t be coined until 1900. But why was there so much television research taking place in the late 1870s?

There are two reasons. One was the appearance of telephones in 1876. If sounds could be transmitted, why not pictures?

The other was the discovery of what seemed to be the only missing ingredient for live image transmission. Photographic cameras, image scanners, motion picture toys, and electronic communications systems were all in use in the first half of the 19th century. What did not yet seem to exist was some way to convert light into an electrical signal.

Science in Victorian titlesThat missing link was revealed in a message read to the Society of Telegraph Engineers in 1873 by Latimer Clark. It had been written by Willoughby Smith and concerned variations in the electrical resistance of selenium when it is exposed — or not exposed — to light. That revelation of photoconductivity, added to those previous developments, opened the gates to research into television.

Perhaps not so coincidentally, the Victorian Books project of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University found that the use of the word science in the titles of “the 1,681,161 books that were published in English in the UK in the long nineteenth century, 1789-1914” peaked in 1874, as shown in their chart (above right)

DSC01912 trimmed

In fairness, though they might have been inspired by scientific developments, science-fiction writers did come up with many remarkably accurate speculations about media technology. In addition to Souvestre’s 24-hour news cycle, Robida came up with, among other things, video voyeurism, distance learning, shopping via video link, the TV-camera-toting war correspondent (above, who gets injured and becomes the news), and even product placement in broadcast scripts.

But no science-fiction writer “predicted” television 100 years before the fact, and none of them wrote of it before scientists and engineers started working on it.

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