1st American TV station begins broadcasting, July 2, 1928

-July 02, 2017

The first American TV station began broadcasting on July 2, 1928.

W3XK was the first commercially licensed television station in the US, owned by inventor Charles Francis Jenkins. The company broadcast just outside Washington, DC, and continued to air “radio movies” to the general public five nights a week until 1932.

Among Jenkins' hundreds of patents was US patent No. 1,544,156 for transmitting pictures by wireless, granted on June 30, 1925.

The station's frequency started out at 1605 kHz, but moved to 6420 kHz (6.42 MHz), and eventually moved to the 2.00-2.10 MHz frequency. At first, the station could only send silhouette images, but soon real black-and-white images were transmitted.

Resolution was set at just 48 lines on the mechanical television sets that accepted the broadcasts. Mechanical televisions, also called televisors, were broadcast television systems that used mechanical or electromechanical devices to capture and display video images. Images themselves were usually transmitted electronically and via radio waves.


November 6, 1929: "Dr. C. Francis Jenkins, noted inventor and television pioneer, directing a scene in his new studio in Washington, D.C., the first devoted exclusively to the production of motion pictures to be shown to an audience by radio; note that the performers are shown in silhouette, that being the form in which the pictures are received over the air ..." Source: Early Television Museum

Jenkins’ company, Jenkins Television Corporation, was liquidated in March 1932. Its assets were acquired by Lee DeForest Radio Corporation, which, within months, went bankrupt. The assets were then bought by RCA, which stopped all work on electromechanical television.

Prior to W3XK, Jenkins was awarded the Ellot Cresson Gold Medal in 1897 for creating the phantoscope, and the Scott Medal in 1913 for his motion picture apparatus. He was also the founder and first president of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, which would later include television to become the SMPTE.

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences awards the Charles F Jenkins Lifetime Achievement Award to engineers whose contributions have significantly affected the state of television technology and engineering.

For more moments in tech history, see this blog.
EDN strives to be historically accurate with these postings. Should you see an error, please notify us.

Editor's note: This article was originally posted on July 2, 2012, and edited on July 2, 2017.

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