Quick history of Television in the U.S.A.

“Broadcasting” involves audiovisual or electromagnetic audio signals which travel through the air to a standard receiver. This basic concept is used in televisions and radios everywhere around the globe. Broadcasting has even become so important in terms of politics that it has been used to address all of the peoples of a given country. Since people realized how important and significant broadcasting could be it has been regulated by the government. Prior to the concept and possibility of broadcasting, people got messages through to others via physical, conventional means. It had to move through space and the world in a material form of some sort, either through horse, pigeon, or ship.

Of course, radio broadcasting began before TV broadcasting, as radio requires only audio and not visuals be transferred. The development of radio was the first step in TV broadcasting, setting the foundation for what would come later. The idea of television has been in people’s minds since the early 19th century. In 1880 the concept appeared in The Scientific American magazine.

first baseball game to ever be broadcasted in 1939 red barber dodgers reds

Radio’s success gave the idea of television even more fire, encouraging companies to invest in the development of the project. GE, Bell, and RCA were some of the laboratories at the time, located in America, which were first to begin exploring the realities of the concept. Although radio went through a long period of trial and error at the hands of amateurs, it was not this way for television. It was clear to these companies who had already witnessed the explosion and popularity of radio that television had extremely lucrative potential, so these companies spent a lot of money on intelligent minds to perfect the idea.

Of course, television broadcasting still took some time to fully develop. In fact, it was quite a lengthy process and it was not the vision of one individual nor did it come about through one person, it took many minds before it finally became a reality. In 1884 Paul Nipkow, a German inverter, successfully transmitted an image. The system he developed was called a rotating disk and it was one of the first big steps towards broadcast television, later enhanced by John Logie Baird, a Scottish scientist. Baird broadcast a televised image in the year 1926 at the Royal Academy of Science located in London. His invention used the Nipkow disk for scanning the image and displaying it.

the story of television in america

A year later Philo Pharnsworth, only 21, was the first to produce the electronic television picture. The image was a dollar sign. He called this piece of equipment an “image dissector” or “dissector tube.” An “electron image” is created through photocathode emissions from a video camera tube. This electron image is scanned, producing an electrical signal which represents an image people can see. For decades companies had been fighting over the patent to just such a breakthrough, and Philo beat them all there. Still, RCA, GE, and Westinghouse were working together closely and continued to do so, and together they had a collection of radio patents. David Sarnoff, who worked in RCA, marketed the invention and was given credit for it. He would be known as the father of television while Philo faded out of the picture and eventually passed away in obscurity.

In the 1930s companies began experimental broadcasting. These first fuzzy images included wrestling, dancing, and music. These escalations were not limited to the United States, and in fact in 1935 the BBC began experimental television broadcasts in London for a certain period of time, usually several hours each day. Network television was introduced into the United States at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. RCA produced live coverage of the opening ceremonies at the fair including President Roosevelt’s speech. RCA also made daily telecasts from the fair’s pavilion. RCA revealed their NBC TV studios in Rockefeller Plaza during this time. A few months later William Paley with CBS began broadcasting from Grand Central Station through new TV studios.


A couple of noteworthy events happened in the 40s. The concept of television broadcasting was possible and finalized, and now networks had to figure out how they were going to make money off of the idea and answer other important questions. Aside from that, World War II had an considerable impact on on television. The first televised major league baseball game was announced by Red Barber in 1939. This game was between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds. Networks gradually began to expand and important cities built broadcast facilities, thus television broadcasting was still on the road forward even though many Americans thought of it as a fad. Networks were getting a better grip on how they could make money off of television and make it available to more people in more places. It looked like a commercial success until the war hit.

1956 documentary on television

During the war the progress of television broadcasting came to a halt. It was suspended for those years and stations even had to shut down due to personal shortages. The DuMont Network was the only one which was able to remain on air. David Sarnoff of NBC supervised the Army’s field communications. He was eventually given the rank of General. In 1947 television broadcasting exploded. This was the period of time when some of the first well- known shows premiered. A few of these TV shows were Howdy Doody, The Ed Sullivan Show, and Kukla, Fran & Ollie. The longest-running news program, Meet the Press, also began broadcasting out of the nation’s capitol.

In the postwar period of time for the United States, capitalism was at work in the TV broadcasting industry as different companies competed with one another in different ways, all fighting to make their way forward. NBC and CBS were doing very well in the television industry after their success with radio. ABC (which entered the scene upon a lawsuit against RCA) and the DuMont Television Network were competing at a lower level, and government regulations hindered the growth of new enterprises like the Zenith Corporation and Paramount Pictures. Check out the latest developments in TV technology here.