A group of school children fought in the Utah legislature to win recognition for one of the world’s most important inventors.
Can you imagine the world without television? Its impact is everywhere, yet few people realize that the inventor of the first electronic television was a man from Utah, or that it was a group of Utah school children who ensured recognition of his important legacy.
Philo T. Farnsworth was born in 1906 near Beaver, Utah, and became interested in electronics at an early age. When only 16 years old, Farnsworth drew a design for his science teacher that showed how electricity could be transformed into pictures. By the age of 21, Farnsworth had successfully tested his design, which proved to be the first electronic television. Farnsworth died, however, with little recognition for his crucial contribution.
In 1985, students and teachers from Ridgemont Elementary School in Salt Lake City decided to set the record straight. They knew about Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol Building, where each state is allowed to have two statues honoring important Americans. At the time, Utah had only one statue in the Hall, that of Brigham Young. The students wanted Philo T. Farnsworth to be the second statue representing Utah, so went to the Legislature to make it happen.
Their first attempt to achieve legislative recognition for Farnsworth was thwarted in the Utah Senate, but the students did not give up. The next year, when legislation again got caught in the Senate, the students sought help from the media to rally public support. This did the trick, and a joint resolution supporting Farnsworth passed in the Utah Legislature.
In 1987, after two years of effort, the students of Ridgemont Elementary School saw the fruits of their activism when a bronze statue of Philo T. Farnsworth – one of Utah's most brilliant citizens – joined that of Brigham Young in Washington’s Statuary Hall.
Image: Statue of Philo T. Farnsworth. Farnsworth, known as the "Father of Television," is depicted in bronze by sculptor James R. Avati holding his cathode ray tube. National Capitol Rotunda, Washington, DC. Courtesy of Scott Applewhite for East Valley Tribune.
See “Utah School Children Won Recognition for Philo T. Farnsworth,” History Blazer, November 1995, http://historytogo.utah.gov/; Elma G. "Pem" Farnsworth, Distant Vision: Romance and Discovery on an Invisible Frontier (Salt Lake City, 1989); Allan Kent Powell, ed., Utah History Encyclopedia (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press 1994); Acceptance and Dedication of the Statue of Philo T. Farnsworth (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office 1991).