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Explorations in Science and Technology

The Pitt Grad Who Pioneered TV


Pitt graduate Vladimir Zworykin is often called “the father of television." His research also led to the development of the electron microscope and night-seeing infrared devices.

While historians tend to agree that the development of TV was too complex and drawn-out to be the work of a single inventor, the Russian-born Zworykin (1889-1982) was undoubtedly a key TV pioneer. After earning his PhD in physics at Pitt in 1926, he did experiments—first at Pittsburgh’s Westinghouse Corp., then for Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in Camden, N.J.—that culminated in patents for the TV camera tube, the kinescope television receiver, and the first color TV system. His inventions led to the universal adoption of electronic over mechanical TV, in which synchronized moving parts had generated rudimentary pictures.

In later years, Zworykin maintained a parental interest in television, though he was a disappointed papa. Believing in TV’s profound educational and humanitarian potential, Zworykin despised the soap operas, sitcoms, and cop shows that continue to keep viewers glued to some 1.5 billion sets worldwide.

“I hate what they’ve done to my child,” he once said. “I would never let my own children watch it.” Asked to identify his favorite part of a television set, Zworykin replied: “The switch to turn the damn thing off.”