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Dawn of a New Day: Television at the 1939 World’s Fair

In his speech to  the International Electricity Congress at the 1900 Paris Exposition, Russian scientist Constantin Perskyi  coined the word “television”.  Thirty- nine years later, another World’s Fair introduced television to the world at large.

Early television images were transmitted using a mechanical system, such as a rotating disk with holes in it, or a rotating mirror,  which scanned the scene and generated the video signal. A similar device at the receiving end featured a radio receiver and displayed the picture.

In 1907, Boris Rosing and A.A. Campbell-Swinton combined a mechanical scanning device with a cathode ray tube receiver. In 1927, Philo Taylor Farnsworth invented the electronic television system, which could capture moving images and transform those images into code before transmitting them.

This 1928 photo shows a mechanical television receiver connected to a radio set. The picture is viewed through the cone.

The first American TV station began broadcasting “radio movies” on July 2, 1928.  The first commercially produced mechanical television sets debuted in September 1928, but, due to poor image quality, never really caught on. By 1934 all TVs had switched to the electronic cathode ray tube system.

Television was introduced to the mass public at the RCA pavilion during the 1939 New York World’s Fair.  In order to convince skeptical visitors that the television sets were not a trick, one set was made with a transparent case so that the internal components could be seen. As part of the exhibit, visitors could also see themselves on television. There were television demonstrations at the General Electric and Westinghouse pavilions as well. To coincide with this formal introduction at the fair, television sets became available for public purchase at various stores in the New York City area.

RCA television set circa 1939

The opening ceremony and President Roosevelt’s speech were seen by  an estimated 1,000 people on close to 200 television sets in the New York metropolitan area. NBC used the event to inaugurate regularly scheduled television broadcasts in New York City over their station W2XBS (now WNBC). One year later there were 23 television stations and over ten thousand homes had a television in them!

Joan Thompson, Expo Sales Executive
Ya’lla Tours USA

Posted on October 23, 2019

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