Baird, John Logie
1888 - 1946
Scientist and inventor
Born in Helensburgh on 13 August 1888, the youngest child of the Rev. John Baird. From a very early age he liked tinkering with devices and making communication technology. He took a course in electrical engineering at the Royal Technical College in Glasgow (later Strathclyde University), then went on to Glasgow University. His final year in a BSc course there was curtailed by World War I.
Unfit for the forces, he served as a superintendent engineer, but by the end of the war had to give up due to ill health. He invented a medicated sock, (which presumably sold well to mothers of adolescent boys), before emigrating to the West Indies. An attempt to sell jam there was interrupted by ill health, a handicap which he had to struggle against all his life. He retired to Hastings in Sussex, in 1922, and began working on the invention of television, something which many had thought of for 50 years.
His success was straight out of a Boy's Own comic. In an attic, virtually penniless, he constructed the world's first television contraption. Sitting on a washstand the base of his motor was a tea-chest, the projection lamp sat in a biscuit tin, scanning disks were cut from cardboard, and lenses were bicycle accessories, at four pence each. The whole thing was held together by scrap wood, darning needles, string, and of course sealing-wax. And it worked.
In 1924 he succeeded in transmitting the image of a Maltese Cross over a few feet. He moved to London, occupying two attic rooms at 22 Frith Street, Soho. There, on 26 January 1926, Baird demonstrated television before 50 scientists. His equipment is now preserved in the Science Museum, London.
In 1927 he transmitted a signal over 438 miles of telephone line between London and Glasgow. He set up the Baird Television Development Company Ltd, which in 1928 made a transmission from London to New York. That same year his tireless energy also demonstrated colour, and stereoscopic television.
Baird's system, which was mechanical, was the only operable method for television at this time, and programme transmission using his methods were taken over by the BBC in 1932. Electronics were also being developed, chiefly by Marconi in the USA, and these were eventually to supersede Baird's technology in 1937.
His other developments were in fibre-optics, radio direction finding, large screen television and other areas. There remains still the nagging doubt that his contribution to the development of radar has never been officially acknowledged.
He married Margaret Albu, a concert pianist, in 1931; they had two children. Baird continued his experimental work until his death at Bexhill, Sussex, on 14 June 1946.