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Mechanical Television

1936 Texas Centennial Exposition

Robert T. Paige recently discovered that there was a demonstration of television at the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas. He is still researching the demonstration, and as he sends us more information, we will post it here. Please contact us if you have any information on the Texas Centennial or on TV exhibits elsewhere. Here is more early television in Texas and information about an early Fort Worth station.

Here is the information from Mr. Paige:

I have just recently been browsing through the files at the G. B. Dealey Research Library at the Hall of State at Fair Park in Dallas.

The Texas Centennial Exposition ran from June 6 to November 29, 1936. Total attendance was 6,354,385. I couldn't find any information as to whether the television exhibit was continued for the 1937 Greater Texas and Pan American Exposition which ran from June 12 to October 31, 1937. Unofficial attendance estimate was 2,384,830. Admission charges were dropped toward the end of the exposition, so I don't know how accurate the figures for 1937 would have been ... and just how many persons saw the exhibit is anyone's guess!

Here is what I found re the television exhibit at the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition.

Blueprints for construction of the exhibit space dated June 3, 1936 and alterations August 24, 1936 (Exposition dates April through November 1936). Labeled "Television Exhibit." Typical "art deco" design with prominent lettering of "Television Exhibit" above entrance door.

Exhibitor listed as W. R. Procunier (no company name listed). He is also listed as "authorized to take and sell 'Four for a Dime' photographs." Contract approval signed by Benjamin J. Habberton, Secretary, and Harry Olmsted, Director General of The Texas Centennial Exposition.

Exhibit listed as "Transmission, reception and telephoning."

The exhibit was located in the Varied Industries, Electrical and Communications Building (present day State Fair of Texas Automobile Building). Group F, spaces 3,4, 5 and 6. 1595 square feet. Roughly L-shaped, 72 by 42 1/2 feet overall. Lobby appeared to be in the short side of the "L" and exhibit space in the long side. (Most individual exhibits were located inside the large exhibit buildings rather than in separate outside exhibit buildings. Ford and most of the oil companies had their own buildings.) Cost of work $1500.

The blueprint was in the 1936 Centennial files, but I could not find a listing for this in the 1937 exhibitors.

I did notice from the dates on the blueprint that the exhibit probably wasn't completed by opening date and seemed to have some alterations made still later.

Kenneth Ragsdale, the author of the book "The year America Discovered Texas - Centennial '36", attended both the 1936 and 1937 expositions as a teenager. He recalls posing before a television camera and seeing his image being projected on a large screen. 

An article in the Dallas Morning News of July 30, 1936 mentioned the exhibit, saying 

The television exhibit, for which a small admission charge is made, is also in the Varied Industries Building.

It enables the student to see another person using the other end of the telephone line. It also demonstrates the use of television by radio energy. The principle is the electrical transmission of light waves which are transformed back into light rays on the receiving set.

The September 21, 1935 issue of the Texas Centennial News also mentioned the display:

Plans for a $100,000 television display have been submitted to the Texas Centennial Exposition by U.A. Sanabria, television engineer of Chicago. Interests represented by the Chicagoan have recently purchased television rights to Station KFJZ at Fort Worth, and have announced that a television laboratory will be established before the opening of the Texas Centennial year.

The exhibit was by U. A. Sanabria, the chief engineer of the Western Television Co., who did demonstrations of large screen TV all over the country in 1933-36. This is from the August 31, 1935 issue of the Dallas Morning News:

The future of television as an entertainment feature may be determined during the Centennial celebration next year if the plans of U. A. Sanabria, Chicago television engineer, meet with the approval of fair officials.

Sanabria, who heads his own laboratory, conferred with officials Friday and placed before them a proposal to exhibit a $100,000 television display. The engineer explained his desire is to test public interest in the science as a general entertainment feature and for such a test the expected large audience offered a fertile opportunity.

Sanabria said the exhibit would not cost the fair any money but he did demand certain concessions in choice space.

Under the plan presented by the engineer the television machine would be set up near the entrance and project a full-length reproduction of persons. He said he also hopes to place a screen on the stadium field. Wires would be used rather than the ether, but the principle would remain the same.

The demonstration was called a Television Telephone, and pictures were sent over telephone lines. One use of the system was described in the Dallas Morning News in July of 1936; to identify criminals by sending their pictures from one police department to another:

Courtesy of the Dallas Morning News

The exhibit was also used to perform a wedding ceremony, with the minister in another building, where the image of the couple was projected on a screen:

Courtesy of the Dallas Morning News

Marie Matthew Hubert wrote:

I lived in Cleburne, TX . in 1936  a small town just a little southwest of Dallas.

My parents took me to the 1936 Fair.  I was only 6 but have never forgotten two things I saw.  One was television and the other was Elsie the Bordon's Cow.  For years both memories were most vivid but now somewhat faded.  The television screen was small but very clear black and white picture on it.  I remember being in a small area  and I was close to it.  I thought it was wonderful. 

Elsie the cow was well known by most children so that impressed me too.  I realize now there must have be several Elsies but then she was the real Elsie.

I was an only child and born during the depression.  Things were getting better and my dad had a job in Cleburne.  We did not own a camera at that time. I do wish I had pictures of my first trip to the fair but I do not. I went to other State Fairs in later years but none ever left an impression on me as this one.. The Texas Centennial....and first time I saw "television".