Zworykin, Vladimir Kozmich

Vladimir Kozmich Zworykin (July 30, 1889 – July 29, 1982) was a Russian-American engineer, inventor, and initiator of television technology. One of his accomplishments includes the invention of a television transmitting and receiving system utilizing cathode ray tubes. In the early thirties, he was instrumental in the physical production of components used in the television, including charge storage-type tubes, infrared image tubes, and the electron microscope. Although many biographers have deemed him the original inventor of the television, some still argue this title.

Zworykin was born in Murom, Russia to the family of an affluent merchant. His father was scarce while growing up, only making appearances on religious holidays. He earned his education at the St. Petersburg Insitute of Technology, under the guidance of Boris Rosing. Recent discovery of collective personal correspondence of Zworykin, reveals he assisted Boris Rosing with investigational work on television in his private basement lab at the School of Artillery of Saint Petersburg, Russia. In 1907, Rosing filed his first patent on a television system highlighting a very basic cathode ray tube as a receiver, and the transmitter was a simple mechanical device. Later, in 1911, an improved design of this system became the first demonstration of television of any kind. After Zworykin’s studies under Rosing, he studied X-rays under Professor Paul Langevin in Paris.

Zworykin was enlisted and served in the Russian Signal Corps during World War I. Thereafter, he obtained employment with the Russian Marconi testing radio equipment that was being developed for the Russian Army. When the Russian Civil War was underway, Zworykin decided to flee the chaos of his country for the United States, in 1918. Russian scientist, Innokenty P. Tolmachev, led the expedition into Siberia travelling north on the River Ob to the Arctic Ocean, to which they eventually arrived in the US in late 1918. He later returned to Omsk in 1919, via Vladivostok, but was sent back to the US for official business by the Omsk government. This business concluded with the collapse of the White Movement in Siberia at the demise of Aleksandr Kolchak. With this, Zworykin elected to reside permanently in the US.

Once settled in the US, Zworykin established employment at the Westinghouse Laboratories in Pittsburgh, PA, where he soon acquired opportunities to participate in television experiments. His efforts in these experiments produced two patent applications, the first, entitled “Television Systems”, filed on December 29, 1923, proceeded by a second application of basically similar content, but with slight alterations and the addition of a paget-type screen for color transmission and reception. Unfortunately, Zworykin’s patents were never granted, and the equipment portrayed in them was never successfully demonstrated.

A.A. Campbell Swinton wrote a published article in Nature in December 1911 that became the foundation of Zworykin’s concept of how to prevent the release of electrons between scansion cycles in the operation of cathode ray tubes as both transmitter and receiver. The expectation of this would mean that the television signal would obtain the modest number of electrons released at the moment the cathode ray passed over a pixel. Zworykin gave a demonstration of this sometime in late 1925 or early 1926, however it was not successful with management of Westinghouse, even though it resembled the options innate in a system based on the Braun tube. Management told him to “devote his time to more practical endeavors,” but he continued in his trials to perfect his system. He earned a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh based on his doctoral dissertation of 1926 that suggested his experiments were focused at improving the output of photoelectric cells.

However, there were limitations as to how far he could continue on this particular effort. So in 1929, in addition to the cathode ray receiving tube project, Zworykin began work again on vibrating mirrors and facsimile transmission, and soon filed patents describing these. In November of 1929, he filed a patent application on his improved cathode ray receiving tube that featured a new receiver that he called “kinescope.”

After successfully developing his prototype, Zworykin was employed by David Sarnoff of RCA to manage the television development at their new laboratories in Camden, New Jersey.

At his new job in the laboratories, Zworykin began to tackle to difficult task of creating a better transmitter. The transmitter of the kinescope was still of a mechanical type. Zworykin’s breakthrough came when he and his team developed a new kind of cathode ray transmitter, based on the patents of Hungarian inventor Kalman Tibanvi. This was peculiar devise, one that enacted the scanning electron beam to hit the photoelectric cell from the same side where the optical image was transmitted. The system was distinguished by an operation supported on a completely new idea, the idea to gather and store charges during the full length of time between two scansions by the cathode-ray beam.

On October 23, 1931, with the achievement of the first promising experimental transmitters, it was decided that the new camera tube would be called Iconoscope. After contracts have been signed with the Hungarian inventor for ownership of his patent, the system was launched at the end of 1934. The new tube was introduced in Germany in 1935, where it underwent more improvements and was successfully used at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, as one of many cameras for film transmission only, broadcasting the games in more than 200 public theaters. Even with all of the new improvements, the tube retained its generic name of Iconoscope. A patent exchange took place with the British firm Marconi/EMI, with plans to take up the original charge storage design. This electronic design was adopted by the BBC who began publicly broadcasting on a trial basis in England in November 1936, along with the Baird-system. The British electronic system featured 405 scanning lines, while the German television employed a 441 line scanning system, as did RCA 375 line definition.

Zworykin married his second wife, Katherine Polevitzky, in a 1951 ceremony in Burlington, New Jersey. She was a Russian-born professor of bacteriology at the University of Pennsylvania. It was a second marriage for both. He retired shortly after his wedding to her in 1954.

On July 29, 1982, Zworykin died in Princeton, New Jersey. Among his legacy, he was inducted into the New Jersey Inventor’s Hall of Fame, as well as the National Inventors Hall of Fame. In addition to these, Tektronix in Beaverton, Oregon named a street on their campus in his honor.

He is honored because throughout his continuous rise in authority, he stayed involved in the developments of the company, and for this and many other things he was given the AIEE Morris N. Liebmann Memorial Award.

When asked about his feelings of watching television, he made this infamous comment, “I hate what they’ve done to my child”¦ I would never let my own children watch it.”

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