Tourism for Locals: Tuning into San Francisco's T.V. History

Juan De Anda/SF Weekly
Tuning into San Francisco history.

While you've been spotting what San Francisco sites were featured on the season premiere of HBO's Looking this past Sunday, we were checking out a local landmark that will probably never be featured on the show, but nonetheless, is key to this drama -- and every other television program in history.

Sitting at 202 Green is a small, historical plaque marking the spot of where television was created.

Yes, t.v. was created right here in San Francisco. It was invented by a man that is probably the most famous inventor you've never heard of: Philo T Farnsworth.

Farnsworth was born in Utah in 1906, according to Biography, and he first began tinkering with the idea of transmitting moving images electronically without the use of cables at the age of 14.

When he was 20 he married his one-and-only wife, Elma "Pem" Gardner Farnsworth (1908-2006), and in May of 1926 and the young couple moved to San Francisco. A year later, Farnsworth would become an iconoclast and change the face of media in a simple shack studio at the bottom of Telegraph Hill.

Juan De Anda/SF Weekly
Marking the (TV) spot.
Here's the plaque inscription commemorating the spot where television had its genesis:

"In a simple laboratory on this site , 202 Green Street, Philo Taylor Farnsworth, U.S. pioneer in electronics, invented and patented the first operational all-electronic "television system" on September 7, 1927. The 21-year-old inventor and several dedicated assistants successfully transmitted the first all-electronic television image, the major breakthrough that brought the practical form of this invention to mankind. Further patents formulated here covered the basic concepts essential to modern television. The genius of green street, as he was known, died in 1971."

According to his wife, Farnsworth's first words to break the silence after the monumental achievement on Green were "There you are -- electronic television!"

The first moving image was of moving black lines and after two years of improvements, the next projection on a small three-inch screen was of his wife blinking.

He filed for his first television patent in 1927 (pat#1,773,980.) Although he won an early patent for his television invention, he lost later patent battles to RCA. Philo Farnsworth went on to invent over 165 different devices, including equipment for converting an optical image into an electrical signal, amplifiers, cathode-rays, vacuum tubes, and electrical scanners.

He died in 1971, back in his hometown of Salt Lake City, broke -- despite his invention catering to our television binges and being one of the biggest generators of income and profits in the field of mass media.

The Father of Television
While the original laboratory is no longer standing, the new building at the intersection of Sansome and Green streets is a modern office building.

But if you're looking for a much bigger monument to the father of television, then you can head over to the Letterman Digital Arts Center in the Presidio, where in front of Building D, there's a stature with Farnsworth's likeness, holding a cathode ray tube, a roll of patents and his most important gift to humanity: our now indispensable television set.

This totally gives a new meaning to the phrase "tune in." Right?

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF, Juan at @JuanPDeAnda, and like us on Facebook

My Voice Nation Help
Don Wurzel
Don Wurzel

Transvestites...everybody knows that.

Chuck Stephanski
Chuck Stephanski

Why Yes , I did. Attended the 50th anniversary of the invention and shook the hand of Pym Farnsworth , Philo's wife who was in the first transmitted image from one floor to another @ 202 Green Street See the large Plaque in the left corner of this shot?

Michael Reese
Michael Reese

The first image Farnsworth projected to potential investor ex was a dollar sign. $

Eric M. Crawford
Eric M. Crawford

I worked in Farnsworth's building. The company was Aspen Graphics, my title was "bike messenger" -- 1st gig out of college.


What was it that John Logie Baird invented the year before, then, I wonder?

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