Old Timer Sees his FirstTV

By Norris Chambers

    In 1933 my cousin, a few years older than I, my sister, niece and I made a trip to the world’s fair in Chicago in my cousin’s Model A Ford. It took 3 days to make the trip to Chicago. We stayed in a tourist court in Texarkana the first night and somewhere in Illinois the second night. The afternoon of the third day we checked in at the Lexington hotel in downtown Chicago. I had been to several county fairs, the Texas state fair and a few local carnivals but this was my first world’s fair. Many years later Ella and I visited the world’s fair in Knoxville, Tennessee. On this last trip we traveled by air and rented an automobile when we arrived.
    The Chicago fair was advertised as a “Century of Progress”. Even in 1933 much progress had been made in the preceding one hundred years. No progress was more evident than that made in electronics. Since I had completed some schooling on the subject and was operating a radio repair shop I was naturally interested in electronics.
    I don’t remember how much the admission charge was, but it was easily affordable, even by a poor “possum hunter”. The exposition was located along the shore of Lake Michigan and on an island in the lake. There was a wide pedestrian bridge connecting the fair grounds to the island. In the three days that we visited the fair I walked across it several times and each time there were many other sight-seers coming and going!
    The Hall of Science was my favorite place. I got my very first experience with a recorder in that building. There was an exhibit where the visitor could push a button, speak into a microphone and push another button and hear his voice. I watched several folks speak into the microphone and listen to the return sound. The quality was very good. I tried it a few times and I felt a little disappointed in the way my voice sounded; but I had to admit to myself that I just didn’t sound very well.
    There was an excellent demonstration on how radio transmission and reception worked. I knew the process well but it was interesting to see it displayed in such a graphic manner. There was a large room arranged and operated by amateur radio operators. I visited it several times and each time I came out determined to learn code and become a ham radio operator. At that time it was necessary to receive Morse code at 13 words per minute. Several years later I did get a license and for years I operated my own station, W5LTZ!
    The most interesting section in the Hall of Science was the large area devoted to television. At that time “television” was only a word that meant the transfer of pictures by a wireless process that was several years from being practical. There were two adjacent areas. An operator stood behind the camera in one area and there was a receiver in the other. The camera was pointing toward the visitors entering the area and the picture was reproduced on the receivers. The picture quality was very good and the individuals walking in front of the camera were easily recognizable.
    I was very interested in an explanation of how the television system worked. A solid wheel with a series of tiny holes evenly spaced in a line started at the outside and progressed to the center. A set of lenses was placed behind the rotating disc and the light gathered through the holes was focused on photo electric cells. These cells took the various amount of light from each hole and produced an electric voltage corresponding to the light from the cell. The pulses were transmitted to a receiver that also contained a revolving disc with holes that matched the transmitting disc. The speed and position of the discs were synchronized in a manner to cause the lights in the receiver to glow through the holes in the disc at the same time the corresponding holes on the transmitting disc produced the voltages. When the discs were properly synchronized the image appeared on the disc in the receiver and was viewed through a ground-glass screen.
    I saw many more interesting exhibits and after three days we returned to our home site to be heartily welcomed. Clifton was very excited and told me I made the newspapers one day at the fair! I was also excited and asked him what it was. “Well,” he said, “the paper said there were over 100,000 visitors walked across the bridge to the island one day and I figured you were one of them!”