by | May 7, 2009 08:00 PM ET
Marshall Brain

Behold the television. Where did it come from? Meet Philo Farnsworth, born in Utah in 1906 to a family of sharecroppers. At the age of 14, Farnsworth basically invested television in his head. He realized that electrons could scan images onto a screen one line at a time, the same way he plowed across a potato field. Seven years later, at the age of 21, Farnsworth created the first electronic television system.

In 1928 Farnsworth demonstrated this genius invention to the public. He eventually had over 150 patents. Unfortunately, Farnsworth fell into a bitter legal battle with Radio Corporation of America, or RCA. RCA tried to steal his inventions and discredit him. Legal problems plagued Farnsworth for most of his life, and he never really made any money from his invention.

So how genius is this inventor? On the American Dream scale, he gets a one. It's unfortunate, but he never got the credit or reward that he deserved for his invention. On the benefit to humanity scale, he gets a five. Everyone has a TV. We wouldn't own them if we didn't like them. On the ripple effect scale, he gets a five. TV has affected just about every aspect of modern life in some way. Today we see the same basic idea in dozens of different technologies.


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