AT&T's First Television Researcher

(Photo of Dr. Herbert Ives.)

Dr. Herbert Ives, who led AT&T’s television research during the 1920s and 1930s, was born in Philadelphia on July 21, 1882. His training in optics, photography and imaging began in his childhood with instruction from his father, Frederic Ives. The elder Ives invented techniques for color photography and the half-tone process that made the publication of photographs in newspapers and magazines possible.

While still a teen-ager, Herbert worked for his father as an assistant and plant foreman. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1905, and his doctorate in physics from The Johns Hopkins University in 1908 with a dissertation on color photography. Ives then held several industrial positions before joining the U.S. Army Signal Corps in 1918 as head of aerial research. The following year, Ives joined AT&T’s research division.

Ives’ first major AT&T success was telephotography, a system that paved the way for today’s fax machines by transmitting photographs over telephone lines. AT&T first demonstrated telephotography in 1924, sending photographs of the Republican National Convention from Cleveland to Washington and New York. Commercial service began the following year. The main customers were newspapers, which used telephotography to quickly publish photos of distant events.

In January 1925, Ives proposed speeding up the picture system “to the point where the product would be television.” Ives’ new goal was to transmit images so rapidly one after the other that they would appear to a viewer as motion. By December, he had devised an electromechanical system that could transmit these “movies” from one laboratory bench to the next. A colleague, Dr. Frank Gray, contributed a primitive electromechanical television camera featuring a “flying spot scanner,” which illuminated the subject with a rapidly moving, narrow beam of light. A second colleague, Harry Stoller, contributed a system for keeping the transmitter and receiver synchronized. Ives demonstrated the apparatus to AT&T executives in March 1926. The picture was crude — only 50 lines of resolution at 16 frames per second (compared to today’s 525 lines of resolution at 30 frames per second) — but the image was recognizable in the 2-inch-by-2½-inch viewing window.

Ives, however, wasn’t satisfied. He believed that a true television system would require transmitting the picture farther than the eye could see, rather than just a few feet. By early 1927, Ives was able to transmit a television signal hundreds of miles by wire and dozens of mile by radio. He was now ready for the first public demonstration of long-distance television transmission in the United States, which took place in New York City on April 7.

(Photo of Dr. Herbert Ives.)

Before the demonstration began, Dr. Herbert Ives, leader of AT&T's television research during the 1920s and 1930s, tells the audience about the photoelectric cells, which served as the “eyes” of the television.

Ives followed this success with demonstrations of color television in 1929, two-way television (or picture phone) in 1930, and the transmission of high-resolution television over coaxial cable in 1937.

In addition to his contributions to television, Ives produced scientific papers on the photoelectric effect and on the Doppler effect as it pertains to Einstein’s theory of special relativity. During World War II, he worked on night-vision devices, for which the United States awarded him the Medal of Merit, its highest civilian honor.

By the time of his retirement in 1947, Ives had published more than 200 papers, and secured more than 100 patents. He died in Montclair, N.J. on Nov. 13, 1953.