14 Live From Schenectady 1928 AS A TELEVISION show, it had a somewhat limited appeal. Live from General Electric's radio laboratories in Schenectady, New York, it's . . . a guy removing his glasses. And then putting them on again. Then blowing a smoke ring. So went the world's first television broadcast--into three homes. And yet on that January afternoon in 1928, GE's brilliant Swedish-born engineer, Ernst F.W. Alexanderson, laid the crude foundation of one of the most powerful, influential media in history.
Ever since the launch of radio broadcasting in the early 1920s, the race had been on to combine and transmit sound with moving images. Two years before Alexanderson's demonstration, Scotsman John Logie Baird used a mechanical scanner to transmit a flickering image of a human head. But GE surpassed Baird's efforts. Four months after Alexanderson's transmission, the company was broadcasting images three times a week, and the basic elements of television were in place. Then in 1937 an electronic system employing the more sophisticated cathode-ray tube was adopted by the BBC in England. The broadcast of the 1947 World Series clinched television's growing importance. By the end of the 1950s, nearly 90 percent of U.S. homes could boast at least one TV set. The world no longer needed to be imagined--now it could be seen and heard. America had a new communal fireplace.