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One Reporter's Opinion: The Origins of Television, Part II – Allen B. Du Mont and the Cathode Ray Tube

Wednesday, 27 November 2002 12:00 AM

Recently we spoke of the birth of television and how we have all but forgotten those who brought it about. We discovered it was not Vladimir Zworykin, RCA's chief engineer; it was not Armstrong or Du Mont or any other; it was Philo T. Farnsworth, who, as a 14-year-old Idaho farm boy, became obsessed with inventing television

As he plowed a field, he realized that an image could be scanned onto a picture tube the same way – row by row. On Sept. 7, 1927, this 21-year-old self-taught genius transmitted the image of a horizontal line to a receiver in the next room and was heard to exclaim to his associates, "The damn thing works!"

Farnsworth and his associates were modest men, humble men, who really never received the recognition of an Edison or Gutenberg and the others who have changed our lives.

David Sarnoff gained fame when, as a young telegrapher atop the Wannamaker Department Store in Lower Manhattan, he transmitted information about the sinking of the Titanic. He went on to become the founder of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA).

And the story of the birth of CBS is a fascinating one. William S. Paley, as a young lad, watched his father roll cigars by hand in a Manhattan store window. Passersby paused to watch Papa Paley at work. That was the source of early money, which established CBS.

But the one most overlooked was a brilliant scientist named Allen B. Du Mont, the inventor of the first commercially practical cathode ray tube – the picture tube in television sets, which is also used in computers. Du Mont's is a fascinating story.

Born Jan. 29, 1901, in Brooklyn, he was stricken by polio when he was 11 years old and spent a year in bed recuperating. His father bought him a radio. He studied it, tinkered with it, learned the principles of radio and built his own. After earning a Bachelor of Science degree, he majored in electronic engineering.

His first job was at the Westinghouse Lamp Company, which made radio tubes, where he became the engineer in charge of production. He went from there to the Lee De Forest Radio Company.

Du Mont did not invent the cathode ray tube; that was the creation of a German scientist as early as 1897. But Du Mont figured out how to make it durable ... and the rest is history.

And Du Mont was the first, in 1938, to build and merchandise television sets. Branching out, Du Mont became a broadcaster in 1941 and founded an experimental television station in New York, which later became WABD (Allen B. Du Mont).

The story of Du Mont is the story of television. He was first in its development, first in radar, first in fine receivers, had the first television station, the first television network, and was first in daytime television in 1948.

That's when I joined him, with my own program:

... which was the forerunner of many of the innovations shown by Ed Sullivan on his "Toast of the Town." Ed used to say, when we would present an unreleased movie and bring the star on the air, "You can't do that! Hollywood won't let you do that!"

But we did ... and later he did, too. Name the stars of that period. We had them ALL!

Back to Dr. Du Mont. He was not only a brilliant inventor, television manufacturer and broadcaster, and the one who perfected the cathode ray tube, but he also made radar possible by devising the first TV guidance system for missiles. He developed a method to locate shrapnel in wounds, invented anti-knock gasoline and durable lacquer for cars. He founded the company that became Allen B. Du Mont Laboratories.

Dr. Du Mont, we salute you! Along with Farnsworth, Zworykin, Lee De Forest, Sarnoff, Paley, and all the rest.

Forgive me ... you're right! I'm a namedropper, but that's one of the advantages of having spent 68 years in radio and television. Now, if you'll pardon me ... if I hurry, I'll be on time for my noon broadcast.

For more information about Allen B. Du Mont, go to: http://chem.ch.huji.ac.il/~eugeniik/history/dumont.html

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you! We have so much for which to be thankful!

The legendary George Putnam is 88 years young and a veteran of 68 years as a reporter, broadcaster and commentator ... and is still going strong. George is part of the all-star line-up of Southern California's KPLS Radio – Hot Talk AM 830.

... and

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Recently we spoke of the birth of television and how we have all but forgotten those who brought it about. We discovered it was not Vladimir Zworykin, RCA's chief engineer; it was not Armstrong or Du Mont or any other; it was Philo T. Farnsworth, who, as a 14-year-old...
Wednesday, 27 November 2002 12:00 AM
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