The Boy Who Invented TV: The Story of Philo Farnsworth

Overview

An inspiring true story of a boy genius.

Plowing a potato field in 1920, a 14-year-old farm boy from Idaho saw in the parallel rows of overturned earth a way to “make pictures fly through the air.” This boy was not a magician; he was a scientific genius and just eight years later he made his brainstorm in the potato field a reality by transmitting the world’s first television image. This fascinating picture-book biography of Philo Farnsworth covers his early interest in machines...

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Overview

An inspiring true story of a boy genius.

Plowing a potato field in 1920, a 14-year-old farm boy from Idaho saw in the parallel rows of overturned earth a way to “make pictures fly through the air.” This boy was not a magician; he was a scientific genius and just eight years later he made his brainstorm in the potato field a reality by transmitting the world’s first television image. This fascinating picture-book biography of Philo Farnsworth covers his early interest in machines and electricity, leading up to how he put it all together in one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century. The author’s afterword discusses the lawsuit Farnsworth waged and won against RCA when his high school science teacher testified that Philo’s invention of television was years before RCA’s.

2009 Parents' Choice Silver Honor winner

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Starred Review, School Library Journal, September 2009:
"One to inspire young audiences with the vast possibilities that imagination and diligence can accomplish."

The New York Times Book Review, December 20, 2009:
"Beautiful and beautifully told, the book tracks like the sort of graphic novel that breaks your heart, with its implied passage of time and slipping awawy of early dreams."

Rich Cohen
In The Boy Who Invented TV: The Story of Philo Farnsworth, by Kathleen Krull (illustrated by Greg Couch), you have another classic story: the science-loving country boy who solves the puzzle before the professionals, by himself, in the wilds…Beautiful and beautifully told, the book tracks like the sort of graphic novel that breaks your heart, with its implied passage of time and slipping away of early dreams.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
This entertaining book explores the life of inventor Philo Farnsworth, who discovered how to transmit images electronically, leading to the first television. Farnsworth’s early days are spent studying science magazines and dreaming about the applications of electricity. Later, Farnsworth persuades investors to fund his efforts, which, with the assistance of his wife, Pem, result in the first, primitive “electronic television” in 1927 (incidentally, Pem became the first person ever to be televised). Krull’s substantial, captivating text is balanced by Couch’s warm, mixed-media illustrations. His muted tones suggest the grainy light of early TV screens and bring home the message about curiosity and perseverance. Ages 5–8. (Sept.)
Children's Literature - Sarah Maury Swan
Philo Taylor Farnsworth loved to invent things. No matter what he was doing, he was thinking about how the world worked. Even plowing a field gave him an idea about how to make television work. His heroes were people his father told him about; Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison were two. From the Sears, Roebuck catalog he learned not only how to read but also about a new phenomenon—electricity. Philo was frequently bullied by kids in school because of his name, but also his interest in science and music. He finally grew tired of the bullying and fought back. That stopped the bullying. When his family moved from Utah to Idaho, Philo finally had electricity in his house and stacks of popular science magazines left by the previous owner. Glory be, he even read about scientists working to develop television. Question after question to the generator repair man finally gave Philo enough information to repair the generator himself. He designed a machine to mechanically wash clothes and won a contest by devising an anti-theft ignition lock for the Model T Ford. After reading what other scientists were trying to develop—television—Philo came up with a better idea while plowing a field—turn images into parallel lines of light and send them out as electrons, then reverse the process for the receiver. He told the senior chemistry teacher at his high school about his idea. Mr. Tolman encouraged Philo to go to college. Unfortunately, Philo's dream of college was cut short by the death of his father. But still he continued to think about building a television. And he did succeed, with encouragement of his true love, Pem Gardener. Reviewer: Sarah Maury Swan
School Library Journal
Gr 2–5—Endpapers featuring a photo collage of generations of televisions from the earliest oval-screened version to modern flat screens set the book's context. Then, readers are asked to imagine life when there was no TV, radio was only for the military, news was hard to come by, and people studied the Sears, Roebuck catalog to make their purchases. Juxtaposing the staid images of farm life with fanciful ones depicting Farnsworth's broadening vision, Couch draws, paints, and digitally enhances the story. To show the boy learning about inventors as he studies the stars, Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell appear among the constellations like ancient Greek heroes. While plowing a field, Farnsworth developed the idea for how television could work, inspired by those parallel furrows as a format to transmit an electronic signal. It is the inventor's passion and genius that come through in this picture-book biography that follows him from the three-year-old who drew schematics of train engines, to the teen who automated the clothes washer so he would have more time to read, to the young man who celebrated his invention. Krull's focus is on the boy genius becoming an inventor like his heroes, and only in a note does she mention his struggles with RCA and his bitterness later in life. The facts aren't new, but with Krull building the story and Couch's exceptional images, it's one to inspire young audiences with the vast possibilities that imagination and diligence can accomplish.—Janet S. Thompson, Chicago Public Library
Kirkus Reviews
As soon as Philo Farnsworth learned how to talk, he began asking questions-about how things worked and why things happened. It was this young boy who, while plowing a potato field at 14 years of age, first imagined the principles that gave rise to television. Years passed as he patented his idea and worked hard to develop a prototype. At 21 he finally succeeded, creating a "revolutionary light machine." Krull tells the story of this relatively unknown inventor in forthright and simple text. She weaves together scientific explanations with boyish details of a young lad growing up. Couch's acrylic paintings are awash with the intricate diagrams and schematics that filled Philo's thoughts. And that momentous potato field where Philo first envisions television bursts off the page with the radiant light of discovery. A detailed author's note further explains how the Radio Corporation of America challenged and subsequently disregarded Philo's patent, thrusting him into obscurity. But he never stopped inventing or dreaming of how he could shape the future. Inspiring. (sources) (Picture book/biography. 5-8)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385755573
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 2/11/2014
  • Pages: 40
  • Sales rank: 125,237
  • Age range: 6 - 9 Years

Meet the Author

Kathleen Krull is the author of a number of highly praised picture-book biographies. She lives in San Diego, California.

Greg Couch is the illustrator of Nothing but Trouble: The Story of Althea Gibson and many other picture books. He lives in Nyack, New York.

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