While Alexander Graham Bell and company were astounding Americans with their long-distance telephone communications, a Scotsman was working on transmitting the first moving pictures over distance. Using as his jumping-off-points new circuits capable of transmitting images and a rudimentary German image-scanning device called the “Nipkow disc,” he used common household items at his disposal to assemble the first prototype of what would become arguably the greatest invention of the 20th century.
On this day, January 26, 1926, John Logie Baird demonstrated his invention for members of Royal Institution, the nation’s foremost scientific body. A Times newspaper reporter also present was underwhelmed, saying “The image as transmitted was faint and often blurred” but did acknowledge the demonstration “substantiated a claim” that pictures could be broadcast over a distance.
Baird’s “televisor” apparatus was his answer to the telephone of the Americas. A month after the first telephone conversations took place between New York and Washington, DC (225 miles) Baird transmitted moving images from London to Glasgow (438 miles). Although in a sense competing against the telephone, his transmissions were actually dependent on telephone lines. Still, most the technical issues were worked out fairly quickly, and a decade after Baird’s demonstration, the UK got its first television station, the BBC, with three hours of programming a day.