Esto Perpetua

June 1919. Rigby, Idaho. Off in the distance, amid the rural flatlands, dust devils yaw over cropfields and a rogue screen door claps in the wind. An eleven-year-old boy climbs into the attic of the family homestead and alights upon a box of science magazines left behind by the previous owners. Say the boy, farm-tanned and freckled, moons over copies of Popular Science, Modern Electrics, and the Electrical Experimenter—that vintage magazine with cartoonish cover art and sci-fi stories alongside articles by Nikola Tesla. It’s easy to imagine how those magazines would have rapped an eleven-year-old boy’s imagination. Issues that feature sketches of future-esque towers shooting laser beams out to sea destroying what appear to be enemy ships. A scientist knocked backward by his own creation of a “lightning ball.” An enormous contraption called the “Gyro-Electric Destroyer,” resembling a weaponized Ferris wheel, set loose over the German front. But it may have been the 1915 edition of the magazine that bore this headline—“Television & the Telephot” [sic]—and featured a drawing of a non-dial candlestick phone with a television screen attached to it that transfixed him the most.

Those magazines lit an obsession within the boy. As a teenager, he would convince his high school science teacher to let him have access to the school’s laboratory before classes started, and to let him stay often late into the evenings. The two of them would often work on experiments together in the smallish brick school building.

What started with a boy and a trove of magazines in a homestead attic would, years later, transform the world so radically, so completely, that we will never again see ourselves the same way. That eleven-year-old Idaho farm boy was Philo Taylor Farnsworth, but we have come to know him as the “father of television.”
Photo © flickr user dedroica

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