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The Invention: 1928

The Invention: 1928

JoeH has identified the mystery man as Washington inventor and television pioneer Charles Francis Jenkins (1867-1934), pictured here with what might be considered an early flat-panel video display, its 48-pixel-square grid composed of small neon lamps.

Washington, D.C., in 1928. "NO CAPTION" is the caption for this one; again we turn to the crowd-source wisdom of the Shorpy masses to inquire: What the heck is it? (Close-up here.) Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative. View full size.


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I only knew about Baird, Farnsworth & Zworkin. This is TV and I love TV.

Important Anniversary for C. F. Jenkins

The 85th anniversary of the debut of Jenkins' regularly-scheduled RadioMovies broadcasts (Friday, July 6th, 1928) is approaching.

Download a PDF file explaining how Jenkins' TV contraption worked here.

Read real press coverage of Jenkins from that era here.

Not yet the telephonoscope

The French illustrator and writer Albert Robida explored the social advantages and disadvantages of the Telephonoscope in the 1890s in his book 'La Vie Electrique.' Sometimes it takes inventions an awful long time to come to fruition.

Radiomovies, Radiovision Television

C. Francis Jenkins self-published a thin book with the above name. The copyright is 1929. He called over-the-air transmissions Radiovision. Television was by wire ... related to the telephone. His lab was over the Riggs Bank at Dupont Circle, DC, for a while.

In the book, he has an honor roll of pioneers who received his broadcast images. One of them is G.E. Sterling, who later went on the be Chief Engineer of the FCC and finally an FCC Commissioner. But that was 50 years ago, back when the FCC had a commissioner with engineering knowledge.

I recall that Dr. Jenkins had a patent on paper cups which brought in enough money that he could afford to dabble with technical things. The Smithsonian used to have a display of some of his TV equipment.

A choice of slow or dim.

Lacking any other devices, early attempts at displaying moving images relied upon incandescent bulbs or neon lamps in a matrix, as in this picture. They were essentially useless for displaying moving pictures; those employing incandescent lamps were extremely slow, because of the thermal inertia of the filaments, whilst those using neons were very fast, but also very dim.

Large advertising signs using incandescent lamps, for displaying script, or slow-moving images, worked well enough, as we all know.

[According to one of the links below, a similar display was a grid of anodes comprising 2,500 specially designed neon lamps. - Dave]

Early prototype

World's first and largest Lite-Brite?

It still exists

Or one of its cousins. Much more info on this here.

Patent 1984683

Maybe a modification of this.

Pest control

A multi-moth trap

Before his time

He has invented a wall light. To test the idea he has used flashlight bulbs, but he will substitute LEDs when they become available.

A TV Pioneer

Looks like Charles Francis Jenkins, a television pioneer.


Large economy sized 'Battleship' game?

Bell Labs Experimental TV

I believe this is an early experimental TV system developed by Bell Labs. Herbert Hoover was the first President to have his image transmitted over this system (closed circuit) in 1928. Those are neon tubes on display and the scanning wheel can be seen in the background It is also described as a flying spot scanner system using mechanics rather than electronics that would be developed ten years later.


Perhaps a demo model of the tickertape news banner on the Flatiron Building?

Matrix Display

Ancestor to the LED signs you see everywhere. The first ones were done with light bulbs. This may be an early attempt to display video.

Invention idea

It would seem that it's a light of some sort, based off all the wires going into the back. Perhaps this is the watershed work that gave us animated signs, like the ones banks use to show the time and temperature.


Of the individual "pixels."

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