• Why is Baird famous?

    What Baird did
    John Logie Baird was a pioneer of television. Other people helped to invent television (TV). But Baird was the first to show TV pictures to the world.

    When did he live?
    Baird was born in 1888. He was born before there was radio or television. There were few cars on the roads, and no planes in the skies. When Baird died in 1946, there were rockets, jet planes, the first computers - and television.

    TV changed the world
    Baird's television showed 'live' pictures in people's homes. TV today works on a different system from Baird's. However, by showing that TV was possible, Baird helped change the world. Today, almost every home has television.

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  • Growing up

    Baird's family
    John Logie Baird was born in Scotland. He lived in the small fishing town of Helensburgh. His father John was a Christian church minister. His mother, Jessie Inglis, was from Glasgow.

    John was born on 13 August 1888. He had an older brother James, and two older sisters, Annie and Jean (known as 'Tottie').

    School days
    John hated school. He was often ill, so he missed lessons. He did not like games lessons, after which the boys had to take cold baths!

    He saved his pocket money to buy a camera. He was excited by cameras, cars and telephones.

    The young engineer
    When John was 12, he made his own telephone. He joined his phone to the homes of four friends, by hanging wires from trees and chimneys. He had to take down his wires after the driver of a horse bus had his hat knocked off!

    John and his friend Godfrey made a glider. Somehow it flew off the roof with John in it! He was lucky not to be badly hurt when the glider crashed in the garden.

    Ahead of the times
    The Bairds' house was the first in the town to have electricity. At 13, John built a generator, to make electric power to light the house.

    Sometimes he behaved like an absent-minded professor. How his cousins laughed when he scratched his head, holding a sticky porridge spoon!

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  • Becoming an inventor

    Student days
    Baird liked science. He loved stories about the future. One day people might send pictures through the air. Radio (then called 'wireless') did this with sounds. Why not pictures?

    In 1906, aged 18, Baird went to college in Glasgow to study engineering. It took him eight years to finish, because he had time off for illness.

    Making money
    World War I began in 1914. Baird tried to join the Army, but was unfit. So he worked in a factory. He did not like it, and felt sorry for factory workers. He went into business on his own, hoping to get rich.

    Baird in business
    Baird sold medicines. He invented a shaving razor made of glass (so it would not rust). He sold extra warm socks for soldiers.

    He was still not well. His doctor told him he needed sunshine. So Baird went to the island of Trinidad in the Caribbean. He started a factory making jam and pickles.

    Mystery experiments
    People passing Baird's house were puzzled. What were those strange flashing lights? Baird was busy with experiments. He was trying to send pictures through the air.

    Back to London
    Back in Britain, Baird started a shop in London. He sold a soap called 'Baird's Speedy Cleaner'.

    In 1923, he moved to Hastings, beside the sea. One day he wrote to a friend, 'I have invented a means of seeing by wireless [radio]'. His friend said, 'stick to soap'!

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  • The first TV pictures

    Moving pictures
    By the 1920s people could watch films in cinemas. The films were 'silent' (no sound).

    At home, people could listen to the 'wireless', but only 1 million people in Britain had radios. No one had yet seen moving pictures at home - television.

    Baird's first TV picture
    To make his first TV in 1924, Baird used boxes, biscuit tins, sewing needles, card, and the motor from an electric fan. His first TV picture showed a cross cut out of card.

    Baird's TV used spinning discs. His idea was to scan an image (the cross) with a spinning disc with tiny holes. Light from the image came through the holes in flashes. Baird then changed the flashes of light into electric signals. He sent the signals to a second spinning disc with tiny light bulbs instead of holes. The bulbs flashed to make a fuzzy TV picture of the cross.

    Baird shows the world
    In 1925, Baird made better TV pictures of a ventriloquist's doll. William Taynton, an office boy, sat in front of Baird's camera. William was the first person to appear on TV!

    Baird showed his television at the Selfridges store in London. Forty famous scientists packed into his London office to see it.

    TV across the sea
    In May 1927, Baird sent pictures from London to Glasgow, through the phone line. In 1928 he sent the first TV pictures under the sea, from Britain to America.

    Baird's first television pictures were black and white. Soon he was making colour TV, with pictures of flowers, strawberries, and a man in a red and white scarf.

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  • The television age

    Secret work
    Baird worked with a small team of helpers. Some days he went off to do mysterious tests on hilltops. Some people said he was doing top-secret work on radar.

    How to watch TV?
    In 1929, the BBC started to test TV, in broadcasts. Would people buy TV sets to watch at home? Or would they watch large-screen TV in cinemas? Baird wanted to televise 'live' sport in cinemas, and in 1931, he invented a TV camera for 'outside broadcasts'.

    An electronic rival
    Baird was not the only inventor working on television. Other engineers were also busy. They had made a rival electronic TV system. It gave better pictures, with a smaller camera.

    The first TV service
    The BBC tested both TV systems in 1936. Then disaster! In a fire at the London TV studio, Baird's equipment and important papers were burned.

    Baird was out of the race. In 1937, the BBC chose the Marconi-EMI electronic TV system. The world's first regular TV service started. The television age had begun.

    New ideas
    Baird did not give up. He tried selling large-screen TVs to cinemas. His firm made and sold electronic TVs. He went on trying new ideas.

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  • What happened to Baird?

    World War II
    Only 20,000 homes in Britain had a television by 1939. That was when World War II began. Television was shut down.

    Baird's wife, Margaret, and their two children, were evacuated to the country. Their home in London was blown up by a bomb. Baird had to live in hotels, but went on working.

    What did Baird hope for?
    The government asked Baird to help plan television after the war. He hoped to give people colour television, in 3-D. He dreamed of big-screen TVs with high-definition (HD) pictures.

    Baird dies
    World War II ended in 1945. Television started again in 1946.

    Baird was planning to televise a victory parade that summer. Sadly, he fell ill, and died in June 1946. He was 58 years old. He was buried in his home town, in Scotland.

    Why do we remember Baird?
    Today TV brings us news, education, sport and entertainment. Events such as the Olympic Games are watched all over the world. John Logie Baird helped make this possible. He was one of Scotland's greatest engineers.

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John Logie Baird Game

John Logie Baird

Take part in the It's Only TV and I Invented it game show.

Fun Facts
  • When Baird was a boy, Helensburgh had just 92 telephones.

  • To sell more socks in 1918, Baird sent a wooden tank around Glasgow! It had posters on the outside, and men inside to push it.

  • Baird's 'Noctovisor' was a secret invention for seeing in the dark.

  • In 1931 Baird televised The Derby horse race for the first time.

  • Baird invented 'Phonovision', a disk to store sounds and pictures (like a DVD).

  • Britain's oldest still-working TV was made in 1936. It has a 12-inch (30cm) screen.

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Jump to: A-D | E-G | H-L | M-O | P-S | T-Z

A to D

(three-dimension) A picture with 'depth', looks more real than a flat 2-D picture.
Short for British Broadcasting Corporation. The BBC started TV in Britain.
When a TV programme is sent from a studio all over the country to people's homes.

E to G

Using electric signals to make things work.
Someone who invents and makes machines and other equipment like TVs.
Sent away for safety from the cities during World War II.
A test to see what happens, and if the same thing happens again.
A building where things are made using machines.
A machine for making electricity.
A plane that flies without an engine.

H to L

A system for making TV pictures extra-sharp and clear.
horse bus
A bus that is pulled by a horse.
A person who was first to make something new.

M to O

office boy
A teenager who worked in an office after leaving school.

P to S

Someone who is the first to do something.
To 'capture' or copy something, to make a picture.
Building or part of a building where TV programmes are made.

T to Z

An entertainer who makes a large doll (or 'dummy') seem to speak.
victory parade
A march by soldiers and others to celebrate the end of World War II.