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Mechanical Television

Mechanical TV Sets of the 20s and 30s

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.

Gallery of mechanical sets
Database of surviving mechanical sets
Mechanical set advertising literature
American mechanical TV stations
European mechanical TV stations

 

More on Mechanical Television

Amateur television broadcasting How television came to Boston Radium notes for television performers
Another early Columbus, Ohio experimenter How we display pictures on mechanical sets Recording Television
Bell Labs Light sources for mechanical receivers Russian homemade mechanical TV
California Television Society Harry and Lela Lombard - Chicago TV in 1927? Sarnoff report on the status of television - ca 1931
Corona discharge in mechanical television Magazine articles about mechanical television Scanning belt receiver
CRT receivers for mechanical transmissions Mechanical sets at the Popov Museum in Russia Scophony mechanical receivers
Crystal Palace transmissions Mechanical theater projection systems Steam powered mechanical receiver project
Don Lee Broadcasting - making a disk Mechanical transmission standards Television demonstrations
Dutch 1932 television booklet Mechanical TV replicas Television pioneers
Felix the Cat Murry Mercier, Columbus TV experimenter The Television Society - 1928
First British reception of U.S. TV Online films and videos Television training schools
First vaudeville show broadcast in Chicago Peter Yanczer's Site Theatre Television
Hollis Baird - a Canadian? Radio supply catalogs with mechanical television  

These sets are in our collection

Click on the Image for More Information

Baird Televisor (1930)

Baird Replica (1950?)

Color Mirror Screw Receiver (1933/2007)

Daven disk, amplifier, and neon (1928)

 

Daven TV Receiver (1928)

Fracarro 30 Line (ca 1930)

Daven Tri Standard (1928)

General Electric Octagon Replica (ca 1950)

Hollis Baird Receiver with Globe Scanner (1929)  

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

Jenkins JD-30 Receiver (1932)

Jenkins JK-20 TV Reciver Kit Box  

Hollis Baird 35 Receiver  (1930)

Jenkins 100 (1931)

Mercier 24/45 Line (1928)

Mercier 60 Line (1929)  

Mervyn Mirror Drum (1934)

 

Phol Paper Scanning Disk

Radio Television Institute Phototube (1936)

RCA 60 Line (1931)

Shortwave Converter (1928)

Western Visionette (1929)

Western Empire State (1931)