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Subject: Dead Media Working Note 12.0

Dead Medium: Baird Mechanical Television Part 3: Other Countries, Other Systems

From: (Trevor Blake)


by Trevor Blake <>


England and the United States were not the only countries that utilized mechanical television. The race to be the first country to develop television was truly international and included Canada, France, Germany, the Soviet Union and Japan.

The base for mechanical television research in the Soviet Union was Leningrad. The first Russian television image was transmitted in 1928, and the first public broadcast occurred in 1934. The first broadcast began "Attention, attention, attention radio viewers: watch, listen to the first television concert." The station was soon flooded with letters from radio listeners asking where they were supposed to look to see the concert.

In March 1935, Germany offered the world's first low-definition (electronic) television service. It used 180 lines of resolution (compared to the 405 offered by the BBC over a year later) and was seen mainly in public viewing rooms. The Berlin Olympics were transmitted by television, and in March 1936 a video telephone system was established. No public official was recorded as using television: the medium was used entirely for entertainment during this period.

While England, the USSR and the USA ceased transmissions during World War Two, Germany paused only during the invasion of Poland.

If the BBC had not adopted the EMI system, it is unlikely England would have had the facilities to manufacture cathode ray tubes on an industrial level. And had this not been possible, the manufacturing of radar screens == and therefore the outcome of the war == might also have been in question.

Mechanical imaging systems remain a vital technology. Computer mice use two slotted disks that are rotated by the track ball. These disks are positioned next to tiny lights: as the disks spin the lights are registered as on or off by photosensors, and software translates the blinking lights as x-y cursor position. Software or sound activated moving mirrors are the key component to laser light shows as well as some virtual reality headgear.

While not commercially successful, video disks (as opposed to laser disks) were an entirely functional medium: a magnetic-tipped needle read encoded pulses in a large plastic disk. All of these technologies, as well as television, are directly indebted to John Logie Baird.


Manly, Harold: DRAKE'S RADIO ENCYCLOPEDIA (Drank & Co. 1927)
Ghirardi, Alfred: RADIO PHYSICS COURSE (Radio & Technical Pub. 1933)
Zworkin, Y. K. and Morton, G. A.: TELEVISION (John Wiley 1940)
Goldstein, Norm: THE HISTORY OF TELEVISION (Portland House 1991)
Kisseloff, Jeff: THE BOX (Viking 1995)
Ritchie, Michael: PLEASE STAND BY (Overlook Press 1994)
Winship, Michael: TELEVISION (Random House 1988)
Yanczer, Peter: THE MECHANICS OF TELEVISION (Peter Yanczer 1987)
(Peter Yanczer, 835 Bricken Pl., St. Louis MO 63122 USA)

Popular Science, March 1932
Mechanics and Handicraft, Vol. 1 #1, Winter 1933
Television: Journal of the Royal Television Society, April 1995

The Race for Television, BBC

The efficiency of on-line search engines and the shifting nature of the Internet make long and comprehensive lists of URLs both unnecessary and inaccurate. A search for 'John Logie Baird' or 'mechanical television' should turn up several interesting sources. Only two are listed here.
This article, including illustrations.
A lengthy thread from on mechanical television, as well as one or two pieces of e- mail on the subject. Compressed using pkzip.

127 House - An Independent Archive of Systematic Ideology
P.O. Box 2321 Portland OR 97208-2321 USA - (503) 635-1796 -

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