Part 2: The Daring of This Boy's Mind!

by Paul Schatzkin

In the Spring of 1926, George Everson and Leslie Gorrell were driving from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City by way of the Mojave desert when Everson's car, a 1922 Chandler Roadster, burned out a main bearing. Abandoning the car at St. George, Utah, Everson and Gorrell proceeded by bus and train to Salt Lake. The car was to be brought on later by the mechanic after repairs were made.

Everson was a professional fund raiser enroute to Salt Lake City to organize a community chest campaign. His career had led him into some of the West Coast's tightest financial circles, as he traveled from city to city organizing a good cause. In each city, he hired native college students to staff his operation. In Salt Lake City, he contacted the University of Utah placement service, and one of the applicants was 19-year-old Philo T. Farnsworth, present occupation -- none.

Farnsworth interviewed for one of a number of jobs conducting a community survey, but as usual he had better ideas. He volunteered himself right away to be the Survey Manager and assured Everson that he was so familiar with the territory that he was indispensable. Everson, who possessed the instinct of a goldrush gambler with his nose too close to the ground, hired Farnsworth immediately. Everson always knew when he had detected a good scent in the wind.

Farnsworth's first responsibility was to complete the job of hiring the campaign staff. Among his first appointments were Cliff and Elma Gardner. Until now Pem and Phil had only spent time together on occasional weekends in Salt Lake City when Pem's mother would permit her to go. When Pem's mother died, she became responsible for the rest of the Gardner brood and the visits became less frequent. Now with the prospect of a good job, Pem left Provo and took her own room in the boarding house where Cliff and Phil shared one.

Some weeks later, as the survey was winding up its operation, George discovered that an important mailing had not gone out on time. The entire staff stayed after dinner to help Phil finish the job. Afterwards, George, Les Gorrell, Cliff Gardner, and Phil paused for a casual bull session. George asked Phil if he planned to go back to school. "No," Phil replied. "I can't afford it. I've been trying to find a way to finance an invention of mine but it's pretty tough. I've been thinking about it for about five years, though, and I'm quite sure it would work. Unfortunately, the only way I can prove it is by doing it myself; but I don't have any money.

"What's your idea?" Les Gorrell asked. Phil paused before he answered. "It's a television system." George, who had never heard the term before asked curiously, "Tell Who?"

When Phil began to talk about his ideas, his manner changed from what George described later as that "of an office clerk too closely confined to his work." As he spoke that night, a special power came to him. His bright blue eyes became dark and intense as he spoke of the ideas that had occupied his brain for the last four years. His speech found new eloquence as he became charged with the energy of his own genius.

George remained the skeptic. He suggested that GE or Bell Labs must already have accomplished what Phil proposed to do. Phil countered with a detailed treatment of just what was going on around the world. He talked of Baird and Jenkins and Ives and their wonderful, spinning wheels. "They're all barking up the wrong tree," he said.

In the early hours of the morning, George finally asked Phil how much it might cost to build a model of the machine. Taking a shot in the dark, Phil said it might cost about $5,000. "Well," George said, "Your guess is as good as any. I surely have no idea what is involved. But I have about $6,000 in a special account in San Francisco. I've been saving it with the idea that I'd take a long shot on something and maybe make a killing. This is about as wild a gamble as I can imagine. I'll put the $6,000 up to work this thing out. If we win, it will be fine, but if we lose, I won't squawk."

Everson, Farnsworth & Gorrell In short order, the association of Everson, Farnsworth and Gorrell was formed. Farnsworth insisted on nominal control of the association, and for the contribution of his invaluable genius he was awarded half the equity in the company. In exchange for raising the money, Everson and Gorrell would split the remaining half.

The only hitch was, George wanted Phil to set up his operation in Los Angeles. Phil agreed that it was a good idea --- the resources of a vast metropolis like L.A. would be much more suited to finding and fabricating parts for his exotic apparatus. There was only one detail left to be worked out.

Neither Phil or Pem could face the thought of being separated by the distance between California and Utah. If Phil was going to the coast, Pem had to go to. The wedding date could be postponed no longer.

The families were a little surprised by the sudden change in fortunes and skeptical that a marriage conceived in such haste could survive. Phil was 19 at the time. Pem was 18. Undaunted by the parental objections, the young couple set out for Provo in George's Chandler and were married by a Mormon bishop.

They spent their honeymoon night driving back to Salt Lake City, where Phil made a late night appearance at George's apartment. The reason for this nocturnal visit was Phil's concern about his lack of immediate cash. The visit developed into a long discussion of the future of TV. Pem was very disappointed to see her wedding night diminished and fell asleep. Phil awakened her later. Trying to get on his bride's good side, he jokingly told her that there was this "other woman" in his life and her name was "television"

The newlyweds rode the Pullman train from Salt Lake City to L.A. It was the first time that Pem had even been out of Utah, so of course her parents had dutifully admonished her about the sins of the Big City. Their honeymoon consisted of an afternoon spent strolling the beach in Santa Monica. The rest of their time was devoted to finding a suitable place in which to set up housekeeping and an electronics laboratory. Eventually they found a cozy one bedroom apartment with a small yard at 1339 New Hampshire Ave., in the heart of glamorous, roaring 20's Hollywood. Phil set up shop in the dining room.

Phil's task was a doubly difficult one. Before he could build his marvelous machine, he had to design and build many of the tools necessary to proceed. It was not as though he could run out to a TV parts store and pick up whatever he needed. This was new territory and virtually everything had to be made from scratch. He acquired a whole new education: electrochemistry, radio electronics, and the ancient art of glass blowing. Most of the glass blowers he met said that the tube he wanted was impossible to make, but Phil typically ignored their opinions and proceeded to do what had to be done.

George soon realized that Farnsworth's first estimate of $5,000 would not bring him close to completing a working model of his invention, and that more money would have to be raised.

George considered it prudent to get involved in the enterprise at the outset because he was taking the chance alone. Once it became necessary to bring other investors into the scheme, then his reputation in the financial community was at stake. He could not afford to jeopardize his standing by acting too prematurely. Lacking the technical background to make a sound judgment on these matters, George sought the assurance of a more reliable source. He called the firm of Lyon and Lyon, local patent attorneys, for advice.

Leonard Lyon's reaction was quick and unequivocal: "If you have what you think you have, you've got the world by the tail. If lot, then the sooner you find out, the better." Arrangements were made for Farnsworth to meet with Lyon and Dr. Mott Smith of Cal Tech, who would pass judgnent on the merits of Farnsworth's idea.

A week later, when Dr. Smith arrived for the session, he left only a nickel in the parking meter, fully expecting that he would dismiss the scheme and leave in less than an hour. The meeting however, wore well into the afternoon. Lyon paced excitedly around the room as he listened to the scheme unfold.

"It's monstrous!" Lyon said. "Just amazng . . . the daring of this boy's mind!"

After more than four hours of intense questioning of Farnsworth, George sumned it all up with three terse questions:

"First," he asked, "is this thing scientiically sound?" Dr. Smith answered a bit bemused: "Yes."

"Is it original?" George continued.

"I'm pretty well acquainted with recent electronic developments," Dr. Smith replied. "I know of no other work that is being carried out along similar lines."

Finally George wanted to know: "Is this thing feasible? Can it be worked out to make a practical operating unit?"

In his answer, Dr. Smith could only imagine the road that lay ahead: "You will encounter great difficulty in doing it, but I see no insuperable obstacles at this time."

That was all George needed to hear.

Phil had told George that he thought $1,000 a month for twelve months would be enough to come up with a working model of his television. Observing that Phil had a knack for underestimating the financial needs involved, George thought it vould be more prudent to seek twice that amount, and set about to raise $25,000.

George called on all his contacts in the world of high finance to find the individuals who might have the surplus capital to back the project. In the process he met a colorful cross section of California's wealthiest society. He was turned down for the strangest reasons. It seemed that every rich man had a special interest that absorbed his "extra" money. One industrialist, who was personally obsessed by color photography, expressed interest if the television were in color instead of black and white. Another was interested only if the idea had some application to bacteriology.

While George learned about the eccentric whims of the California gentry, Phil, Pem and Les Gorrell spent the summer of 1926 scavenging Los Angeles for parts. At the end of each day's foraging they returned with mysterious bundles to the little apartment in Hollywood. When it was time to start winding the first electromagnetic coils, George, who happened to be in town, volunteered for the messy job.

Given that this all occurred in the middle of prohibition, it must have seemed a bit suspicious, all this unusual activity. Now, here was this total stranger to the neighborhood, sitting out in the back yard winding, copper wire around a cardboard tube. Certainly someone noticed, for one day in August, Pem opened the door to find her porch filled with a small squad of blue LAPD uniforms, demanding to search the house. They had received a report that a still was being operated on the premises. The squad proceeded to ransack the apartment despite protests from the Farnsworths. Nothing alcoholic was found, but the sergeant was amazed by the things that he did find, and began to wonder if he had stumbled onto something even more sinister than a still.

With carefully guarded words, he asked Phil what all the stuff was. Phil looked around at the strange gear he had colIected, stared the sergeant straight in the eye and answered, "This is my idea for electronic television."

The sergeant shook his head, took another look around and said, "Tell a what?"

End of Part Two

Continue with :

Part 3: " An Eerie Electronic Hue"



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