Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh, Allegheny County
University of Pittsburgh professor Vladimir Zworykin became ?the father of modern television.?
In 1919, Vladimir Zworykin came to the United States where he attended the University of Pittsburgh. He worked at Westinghouse developing the television and then worked for the Radio Corporation of America, becoming associate research director. He applied his knowledge to the development of two key television component inventions, the kinescope and the iconoscope, earning him the title, “the father of the modern television.” He wrote numerous works, including his now-classic Television: The Electronics of Image Transmission. A powerful, intelligent, insightful, and noteworthy man, Zworykin was inducted into the U.S. Hall of Fame.
Vladimir Kosma Zworykin was born the youngest of seven children to Kosma and Elana Zworykin on July 30, 1889, in Murom, Russia, a town 200 miles east of Moscow. At the age of nine, he began spending his summers aboard his father’s boat as an apprentice, during which time he repaired electrical equipment and developed his fascination with electricity. When he was old enough, Zworykin decided to attend the St. Petersburg Institute of Technology, receiving his degree in engineering 1912. During the time between 1910 and 1914, Zworykin studied electrical engineering with a man named Boris Rozing, whom had developed a crude, mechanical version of the television in 1907. These two worked on the application of the cathode ray tube to the creation of the modern television. After graduating, Zworykin attended the College de France in Paris to study theoretical physics and X-Ray technology with Paul Langevin, a prominent physics-oriented scientist “whom Rozing admired and knew personally.” Upon the commencement of World War I in 1914, Zworykin was immediately inducted as a private in the Russian army, working on ciphering and deciphering radiograms and intercepting news bulletins from German staff in Morse code. After overworking himself, developing insomnia and hallucinations, Zworykin was discharged, and soon after in 1916, he met and quickly married his first wife, Tatiana Vasilieff. However, the two soon became separated due to the demanding nature of his work. In 1919, after the revolution and the end of World War I, Zworykin decided to head to the U.S. to study radio tubes and photocells at the Westinghouse Electric Research laboratories. Throughout 1923, Zworykin kept himself busy designing an electrically-based television model. During this time, he even turned down an offer from the Warner Brothers so that he could work long hours on his invention. In 1924, he applied to the physics department at the University of Pittsburgh, and due to his previous credited work with Paul Langevin, Zworykin received his Ph.D. only two years later upon completion of his dissertation on the improvement of photoelectric cells. In late 1925, Zworykin sought a patent for his television from Westinghouse. His demonstration of his invention to the Westinghouse executives, according to Zworykin himself, was “scarcely impressive,” and the executives subsequently denied him patent rights. They reasoned that he should spend his time on more practical endeavors, causing Zworykin to push himself harder to perfect his device. In fact, after this rejection Zworykin often worked until 2:00 a.m. at which time he was forced to leave the building by a laboratory guard. Zworykin’s persistence eventually yielded the kinescope, an adapted cathode ray tube which served as the basis for picture translation in televisions. In 1929, Zworykin delivered a paper on the application of the kinescope and iconoscope to facsimile picture transmission to the Institute of Radio Engineers, catching the interest of attendee David Sarnoff, a pioneer in radio and television broadcasting, whom eventually hired Zworykin to develop his television system for the Radio Corporation of America. Shortly after being hired as associate research director for RCA&8217;s electronic research laboratory in Camden, New Jersey, Zworykin estimated the cost of the television development to be $100,000. David Sarnoff, who became RCA president in 1930, later disclosed to the New York Times that “‘RCA spent $50 million before [they] ever got a penny back from TV.” As the development of the television progressed into mid-1931, Zworykin and his team finished perfecting the iconoscope, a camera tube in which a beam of high-velocity electrons scans a photoemissive mosaic. This forever changed the conception of the television to an all-electric device, replacing the older mechanical model. The first experimental television broadcast came in 1932 to an audience of RCA licensees, an exclusive demonstration. The transmission was done by a mechanical camera which produced a resolution of 120 lines of information. Despite the financial toll taken by RCA from the Great Depression, Zworykin, under careful supervision and guidance from Sarnoff, continued his pursuit of perfection of the television design and in 1933 and 1936 contributed to the improvement in resolution to 240 and then to 405 lines, respectively. The television was introduced to the public for sale at its debut in 1939 at the New York World’s Fair. Albert Abramson reports that “witnesses claimed that the pictures were clear and steady.” After he had perfected the design of the television by 1940 standards, earning his prestigious title as “the father of modern television,” Zworykin went on to publish more works and pursue other electronics-inventing endeavors. For instance, Zworykin contributed to the design of the electron microscope, which spurred a revolution in understanding the atomic nature of elements and molecules. Additionally, after the outbreak of WWII, Zworykin oversaw the invention of a radio guided-missile. His electron-imaging tube also provided the fundamental basis for the creation of the “sniperscope,” or “snooperscope,” an early night vision device that used a large infrared light source to illuminate targets. In the latter part of his life, Zworykin persisted in developing himself personally and professionally. In 1951, shortly after divorcing Tatiana Vasilieff, from whom he had been separated for over 20 years, Zworykin remarried to Dr. Katherine Polevitzky, widow of the former mayor of Murmansk, Russia. He became honorary vice-president of RCA in 1954, served as the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research’s director of medical electronics from 1954-1962, and founded and presided over the International Federation for Medical Electronics and Biological Engineering. Amidst being busy with his notable work, Zworykin obtained numerous awards for his insights and inventiveness. He was awarded The Faraday Medal from Great Britain in 1965, The U.S. Presidential Medal of Science in 1966, The National Medal of Science in 1967, and was inducted into the U.S. Hall of Fame in 1977. During his lifetime, he received approximately 120 patents for his numerous inventions. Zworykin died on July 29, 1982, in Princeton, New Jersey, one day before his 93rd birthday.
Photocells and Their Applications. (with E.D. Wilson) New York: Wiley, 1930.
Television: The Electronics of Image Transmission. (with G.A. Morton) New York: Wiley, 1940.
Electron Optics and the Electron Microscope. (with G.A. Morton, E.G. Ramberg, and others) New York: Wiley, 1945.
Photoelectricity and its Application. (with E.G. Ramberg) New York: Wiley, 1949.
Television: The Electronics of Image Transmission in Color and Monochrome. (with G.A. Morton) New York: Wiley, 1954.
Television in Science and Industry. (with E.G. Ramberg, and L.E. Flory) New York: Wiley, 1958
Abramson, Albert. “Zworykin: Pioneer of Television.” Urbana: U of Illinois P: 1995.