VLADIMIR ZWORYKIN Biography - Theater, Opera and Movie personalities


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Vladimir Kosma Zworykin (July 30, 1889 - July 29, 1982) was a pioneer of television technology. Zworykin invented the iconoscope, a television transmitting tube, and the kinescope, a cathode ray tube that projects pictures it receives onto a screen. He also invented an infrared image tube and helped develop an electron microscope.




Zworykin lived through many historic events. Born in Murom, Russia in 1889 to a family of a prosperous merchant, he studied at the St. Petersburg Institute of Technology. He was eventually hired by one of his instructors, Boris Rosing, who was seeking ways of extending human vision. By 1907, Rosing had developed a television system which employed a mechanical disc system as a camera, and a very early cathode ray tube (developed in Germany by Karl Ferdinand Braun) as a receiver. The system was primitive, but it was more electronic than mechanical. Rosing and Zworykin exhibited a television system in 1910, using a mechanical scanner in the transmitter and the electronic Braun tube in the receiver. In 1912 Zvorykin graduated and was allowed to continue his education in College de France, in Paris, but World War I ruined these plans.


Zworykin decided to leave Russia for the United States in 1919. Zworykin lost contact with Rosing during the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Rosing continued his television research until 1931 when he was exiled to Arkhangelsk by Stalin; Rosing died in exile in 1933. Zworykin carried on his work. Zworykin escaped and briefly studied X-rays under Paul Langevin in Paris, before moving to the United States in 1919, to work at the Westinghouse laboratory in Pittsburgh. In 1926 he received a Ph.D from the University of Pittsburgh. Zworykin found a job with Westinghouse Electric Corporation.


Based on their pioneering efforts in radio, he tried to convince them to do research in television. Turning down an offer from Warner Brothers, Zworykin worked nights, fashioning his own crude television system. In 1923, Zworykin demonstrated his system before officials at Westinghouse and applied for a patent. All future television systems would be based on Zworykin’s 1923 patent. Zworykin describes his 1923 demonstration as “scarcely impressive".


Westinghouse officials were not prepared to base an investment in television on such a flimsy system. The company’s suggestion was that Zworykin devote his time to more practical endeavours. Zworykin learned one of the managers said, “Put this guy to work on something more useful.” Undeterred, Zworykin continued in his off hours to perfect his system. He was so persistent that the laboratory guard was instructed to send him home a 2:00 in the morning if the lights of the laboratory were still on. During this time,. Zworykin managed to develop a more sophisticated picture tube called the Kinescope, which serves as the basis of the television display tubes in use today.


In 1924, Zworykin became a naturalized citizen of the United States.


In 1929, Vladimir Zworykin invented the all electric camera tube. Zworykin called his tube the Iconoscope (literally “a viewer of icons"). On November 18, 1929, at a convention of the Institute of Radio Engineers, Zworykin demonstrated a television receiver containing his kinescope. He demonstrated both the iconoscope camera tube and kinescope display tube. Zworykin’s all-electronic television system demonstrated the limitations of the mechanical television system. In attendance was David Sarnoff, who eventually hired Zworykin to develop his television system for RCA.


Vladimir Zworykin was transferred by Westinghouse to work for the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in Camden, New Jersey, as the new director of the Electronic Research Laboratory. RCA owned most of Westinghouse at that time and had just bought the Jenkin’s Television Company, makers of mechanical television systems, in order to receive their patents (see C. F. Jenkins). Zworykin made improvements to his iconoscope, RCA funded his research to the tune of $150,000. The further improvements allegedly used an imaging section which was similar to Philo Farnsworth’s patented dissector. Patent litigation forced RCA to start paying Farnsworth royalties.


Under Sarnoff’s watchful eye, Zworykin continued to develop the electronic system. When Zworykin started at RCA, his system was scanning 50 lines. Experimental broadcasts started in 1930, first using a mechanical camera transmitting at 120 lines. By 1933, a complete electronic system was being employed, with a resolution of 240 lines. Zworykin had originally told Sarnoff it would cost $200,000 to develop a television system, the final cost was estimated at about $50,000,000.


Zworykin was not alone. By 1934, two British electronic firms, EMI and Marconi, created an all-electronic television system. They used the Emitron camera tube based on the Iconoscope, as EMI had a patent licensing agreement with RCA. This electronic system was officially adopted by the BBC in 1936. It consisted of 405 scanning lines, changing at twenty five frames per second.


In 1952, he received the AIEE, now IEEE, Edison Medal ‘For outstanding contributions to concept and design of electronic components and systems.’ In 1951, the IRE, now IEEE, awarded him the Medal of Honor, “For his outstanding contributions to the concept and development of electronic apparatus basic to modern television, and his scientific achievements that led to fundamental advances in the application of electronics to communications, to industry and to national security.” Between 1952 and 1986 the IEEE adminstered The Vladimir K. Zworykin Award “for outstanding technical contributions in the field of electronic television.”