Early Television
Early Television
Early Television
Early Television
Early Television Early Television

Mechanical Television

Mechanical TV Sets of the 20s and 30s

The concept of scanning a picture using mechanical means was first proposed by Alexander Bain in 1843. The scanning disk, which became the basis of mechanical TV, was proposed in 1884 by Paul Nipkow. At that time, vacuum tubes and photoelectric cells needed to make a television system didn't exist. The first mechanical television systems that produced real television images were developed by John Logie Baird in England and by Charles Francis Jenkins in the U.S. in the mid 20s.

Broadcasting began in the United States on the AM radio band (550-1500 kHz). In 1930, the Federal Radio Commission allocated channels in the 2 mHz band for experimental television transmission to allow higher resolution (45 and 60 line pictures) to be transmitted.

Picture quality was very poor, and the screens were only an inch or so wide and were usually made up of only 30 to 60 lines (compared to 525 lines in the present U.S. system). Most of these sets used a motor to rotate a metal disk to produce the picture,  with a neon tube behind the disk to provide the light. Later mechanical systems used the lens disk, mirror screw and mirror drum.  The Scophony system was the only mechanical system capable of high definition pictures, but it was developed at a time when the cathode ray tube had already been demonstrated as a better method of displaying television pictures.

By 1931, television was being broadcast from about 25 stations in the U.S., not only from the major cities such as New York and Boston, but also from Iowa and Kansas. Several manufacturers were selling sets and kits.

he frequencies used for TV broadcasting at that time could travel long distances, so reception was possible hundreds of miles from the station. However, the pictures suffered from not only poor resolution, but also fading and ghosting.

In Columbus, Ohio, Murray Mercier, born in 1912, was one of the first people to watch television. Here is his story.

In England, regularly scheduled 30 line television programming was first broadcast by the BBC in September of 1929 using equipment supplied by John Logie Baird.  At first, only the picture was transmitted for a few hours a week, after regular radio broadcasting was completed for the day. By March of 1930, sound and pictures were transmitted together. In 1933 Baird built a studio at the Crystal Palace.

Most countries in Europe had at least one mechanical station.

Because of the poor picture quality, mechanical television was not a success. By 1933 almost all stations were off the air in the United States, and in 1936 the 2 mHz television band was reassigned for police use. Mechanical television transmission by the BBC continued until 1935, and in the Soviet Union until 1937.

Advertising literature Roger DuPouy's Website
Gallery of mechanical sets Eckhard Etzold's Website
Database Summary of surviving mechanical sets Tom Genova's tvhstory.tv Website
American mechanical TV stations Gerolf Poetschke's Website
European mechanical TV stations Peter Yanczer's Website
Technical information  

 

More on Mechanical Television

Amateur television broadcasting Mechanical theater projection systems
Another early Columbus, Ohio experimenter Mechanical transmission standards
Bell Labs Mechanical TV replicas
California Television Society Murry Mercier, Columbus TV experimenter
Corona discharge in mechanical television Online films and videos
CRT receivers for mechanical transmissions Preiss scanner
Crystal Palace transmissions Radio supply catalogs with mechanical television
Don Lee Broadcasting - making a disk Radium notes for television performers
Dutch 1932 television booklet Receiver schematic diagrams
DX (long distance) reception Recording Television
Felix the Cat Russian homemade mechanical TV
First British reception of U.S. TV Sarnoff report on the status of television - ca 1931
First Puppets on Television - By My Dad Scanning belt receiver
First vaudeville show broadcast in Chicago Scophony mechanical receivers
G. E. C. 1928 advertisement Siemens Artificial Eye
Hollis Baird - a Canadian? Steam powered mechanical receiver project
Home Radio & Television service shop Television demonstrations
How television came to Boston Television pioneers
How we display pictures on mechanical sets Televisionmachine.com - Byron Ake's site
Light sources for mechanical receivers The Television Society - 1928
Harry and Lela Lombard - Chicago TV in 1927? Television training schools
Magazine articles about mechanical television Theatre tTelevision
Mechanical sets at the Popov Museum in Russia Unknown television pioneer?
Mechanical Television - James T. Hawes' site  

These sets are in our collection

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Early Television

Baird Televisor (1929)

Early Television

Baird Replica (1950?)

Early Television

Bell Labs Mirror Screws (1933)

Early Television

Color Mirror Screw Receiver (2007)

Early Television

Daven disks, amplifier, and neon (1928)

 Early Television

Daven TV Receiver (1928)

Early Television

Fracarro 30 Line (ca 1930)

Early Television

Daven Tri Standard (1928)

Early Television

General Electric Octagon Replica (ca 1950)

Early Television

Hollis Baird Receiver with Globe Scanner (1929)  

Early Television

Hollis Baird C-3-S Shortwave Converter (1930)  

Early Television

Jenkins JD-30 Receiver (1932)

Early Television

Jenkins JK-20 TV Reciver Kit Box  

Early Television

Hollis Baird 25/35 Receiver  (1930)

Early Television

Hollis Baird 26/36 scanner

Early Television

Jenkins 100 (1931)

Early Television

Mercier 24/45 Line (1928)

Early Television

Mercier 60 Line (1929)  

Early Television

Mervyn Mirror Drum (1934)

Early Television

Phol Paper Scanning Disk

Early Television

Radio Television Institute Phototube (1936)

Early Television

RCA 60 Line (1931)

Early Television

Shortwave Converter (1928)

Early Television

Western Visionette (1929

Early Television

Western Empire State (1931)