Farnsworth was born a Mormon in Utah. He became interested in electronics after his first telephone conversation with an out-of-state relative; he became interested in television programming after his discovery of a large cache of titillating magazines in the attic of the family's house.
In 1927 Farnsworth's Image Dissector camera transmitted its first image, a simple straight line. By 1928 Farnsworth had developed the system sufficiently to hold a demonstration for the press, in which his camera tube transmitted the image of an insane man telling jokes in German. And thus the sitcom was born.
In 1931 Farnsworth's company was transmitting regular entertainment programs, in a sense the first television network. The network in large part lives on today as Comedy Central, although an offshoot survives as ESPN.
Farnsworth developed the vacuum tube television display, an idea he conceived at age 14 and developed at age 21. During a patent lawsuit against RCA his high school teacher redrew a drawing Farnsworth had made on the blackboard when he was 14. Farnsworth won the suit and was paid royalties but never became wealthy until forming his own TV network.
Farnsworth's greatest achievement was to take his television invention and parlay it into a series of broadcasting stations throughout the United States. Thus, he became the inventor of the TV network. His first network was named VH1, which stood for "Visual Humor, First TV Network."
Farnsworth later sold his television-network patents to RCA, which formed NBC.
Farnsworth also invented the finglonger.
- "There's nothing on it worthwhile, and we're not going to watch it in this household, and I don't want it in your intellectual diet." -- Philo T. Farnsworth to his son Kent, regarding television.
- "Perhaps we should have the audience vote out one of the contestants by way of the telegraph." -- Philo T. Farnsworth to his son Kent, regarding the resolution of the first televised reality TV series, Philo's Stars.
- "Do you guys know who Philo Farnsworth was? He invented television. I don't mean he invented television like Uncle Milty, I mean he invented the television. In a little house in Provo, Utah. At a time when the idea of transmitting moving pictures through the air would be like me saying I've figured out a way to beam us aboard the Starship Enterprise. He was a visionary and he died broke and without fanfare. The guy I really like though was his brother in law Cliff Gardner. He said to Philo, 'I know everyone thinks you're crazy, but I want to be a part of this. I don't have your head for science, so I'm not gonna be much help with the design and mechanics of the invention. But it sounds like in order to do your testing, you're gonna need glass tubes.' See, Philo was inventing the cathode receptor, and even though Cliff didn't know what that meant or how it worked, he'd seen Philo's drawing and he knew they were gonna need glass tubes and since television hadn't been invented yet, it's not like you could get 'em at the local TV repair shop. 'I want to be a part of this,' Cliff said, 'and I don't have your head for science. How would it be if I taught myself to be a glassblower? And I could set up a little shop in the backyard. And I could make all the tubes you'll need for testing.' There oughta be Congressional medals for people like that." -- William H. Macy, playing Sam Donovan, on Aaron Sorkin's show Sports Night