In Eastern Idaho, nestled between Idaho Falls and Rexburg is a quiet little town. Highway 20 cuts right through its heart, and carries travellers on their way further North to Yellowstone National Park, or elsewhere. But this little town is full of history, and it holds a marvelous secret. Only it’s not a secret. It’s listed right on the sign that welcomes you to this town. The sign simply reads, “Rigby. The Birthplace of Television.” I know, you might be wondering how a small town in Idaho could ever claim to be the birthplace of television, or if it could even be true. Simply put? It is true.
While Philo T. Farnsworth, the father of television, wasn’t originally from Idaho, it was the time that he spent in Rigby that lead to his great invention of broadcasting images. Philo was born in a small town in Utah, but when he was around 12 years old, his family moved to Rigby, Idaho. They were going to farm on his uncle’s ranch. At this time in America’s past, radio and telephones were still in their infancy. Philo had been exposed to the crank-style telephones, and he was fascinated that he could talk to his aunt over such a great distance. His curiosity grew, however, when he found a very unique stash of magazines in the attic of his Rigby home. They were old science magazines, and he read through them with fervor. In them was mention of a thought to be futuristic and science fiction device. It allowed the broadcasting of images, just like a radio broadcast sound. It was the television.
The idea for a television had existed for some time, and it was a topic of much discussion amongst those in the science field, and even amongst writers of science fiction. There was just one catch. No one had yet figured out to invent television and bring it out of the science fiction world and into our world. No one, that is, until Philo T. Farnsworth. One day, he was plowing the family field, and he noticed something. Something he had seen every day working on the farm, but that day, it finally clicked. He noticed that the rows were all parallel. An idea began to form in his mind, and he realized that he could do the same thing with an image. If he broke an image into parallel rows, he could more easily transmit that information sequentially. His breakthrough on the farm allowed to him continue his studies and research, until he finally invented the television.
Philo was 21 when he succeeded. He was able to transmit an image using a camera in one room, and display it on a television in another room. In real-time, no less. It was a single, horizontal line, and his assistant rotated the line to show that they really had invented the television. However, Philo did not invent the television in Rigby, or even in Idaho. His actual invention, and demonstration, took place in San Francisco, California at a small lab he was renting. His financial backers were there to witness the historic occasion as television was born.
You might be wondering if Rigby really has the right to claim itself as the birthplace of television. After all, the television was actually invented in California. However, it was Philo’s experiences, teachers, and farming in Rigby, Idaho that allowed him to have the breakthrough necessary to finally create the television. And if Philo had never discovered those old science magazines in the farmhouse’s attic, would he have ever heard of the idea of television? While it’s possible he would have, it’s very clear that his time in Rigby culminated in invention of the television.
While Rigby might not be where the television was wholly created, or first demonstrated, it does hold true to being “the birthplace of television.” The idea, the method, and the desire to learn and invent was born in Philo, right here in Idaho, in a quiet little town nestled between Rexburg and Idaho Falls. There’s even a museum that holds the original television tube that Philo invented. Idaho is full of surprises, and being the birthplace of television is just one of many.