Philo and his dissector.

Statue of Philo Farnsworth, Father of TV

Field review by the editors.

Salt Lake City, Utah

The more time we spend with our smart phones and tablets, the less time we have for TV. If television really is on its way to obsolescence, then maybe it's time to start appreciating its history. Not just its legendary stars, but the man who actually made it happen: inventor Philo T. Farnsworth.

Philo was born in 1906 in a log cabin near Beaver, Utah. He later claimed that he was plowing a potato field in Idaho when he had the idea for electronic television: images scanned line by line, row by row. That was in 1922. Philo was 15. He called his invention an "image dissector."

In the state capitol, Salt Lake City.
In the state capitol, Salt Lake City.

Philo's apocryphal a-ha moment -- looking at rows of spuds, dreaming of television -- endears him to all TV babies. It may be too wonderful to be true. But if the story is repeated enough by tour guides and lazy screenwriters, then it becomes true, like so many things we see on TV....

Which leads to another too-wonderful story. In the mid-1980s -- Miami Vice in TV years -- the kids at Ridgecrest Elementary School in Salt Lake City learned that Utah had only a statue of Brigham Young in the U.S. Capitol. Each state is allowed two statues. The kids asked their neighbors and friends who deserved the second statue, and the overwhelming favorite was Philo Farnsworth. The folks around Ridgecrest Elementary apparently didn't know that Philo did most of his TV work somewhere other than Utah, but Utah's politicians were willing to overlook that. On May 2, 1990, Philo's statue was unveiled in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Two exact copies went up as well, one at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, the other in Philo's birthplace of Beaver.

2008 statue of Philo, San Francisco.
2008 statue of Philo, San Francisco.

Philo's statue shows him to be thin as a rail. He stands holding one of his bulky image dissector vacuum tubes, thinking of ways to make it even more amazing. "Father of Television," reads the inscription on the statue's base. A plaque notes that Philo also "developed the first electron microscope and baby incubator," and that when he died in 1971 he was "working in cold nuclear fusion." Philo told reporters that his "fusor" was his greatest invention, and that he rarely watched television. These awkward facts have been forgiven, because we love what Philo gave us so much.

A fourth Farnsworth statue arrived in 2008, a new and different model (with more luxuriant hair) that was erected in San Francisco, the city where he first demonstrated TV. Once again Philo is depicted as deep in thought, this time holding a cathode ray tube, his other hand clutching a rolled up electrical schematic. Next to him is an early TV set. Perhaps, like Dr. Frankenstein, Philo is racked with doubts about the merits of his creation. Or maybe, like all Couch Potatoes, he's just waiting for something better to come on.

RoadsideAmerica.com Team Field Report

Statue of Philo Farnsworth, Father of TV

Utah State Capitol

Address:
E. Capitol Blvd., Salt Lake City, UT
Directions:
North edge of the city. Inside the east wing of the Utah State Capitol, on the fourth floor, overlooking the atrium. Just to be sure, ask at the information desk for Philo's exact location; he's been moved around a lot.
Hours:
M-F 8 am - 8 pm; Sa-Su 8 am -5 pm. (Call to verify)
Phone:
801-538-3000
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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RoadsideAmerica.com Team Field Report

Birthplace of Philo Farnsworth, Father of TV

Daughters of Utah Pioneers Court House Museum

Address:
E. Center St., Beaver, UT
Directions:
Daughters of Utah Pioneers Court House Museum. Philo stands on the west side of the old Beaver County courthouse, which is on the south side of E. Center St. just west of S. 100 E. St.
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Statue of Philo Farnsworth, Father of TV

Letterman Digital Arts Center

Address:
Dewitt Rd, San Francisco, CA
Directions:
At the Letterman Digital Arts Center. From Golden Gate Bridge drive south on US Hwy 101. Take exit at Downtown/Lobard St. following US Hwy 101. At fourth stoplight (Economy Inn) turn right onto Lombard St. At third stop sign (just past bus stop) turn right onto Letterman Drive, then quickly turn right at sign into the Letterman Digital Arts Center. Tell guard you're there as a visitor. Park, and walk around to the right of the red building. Statue will be straight ahead.
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Statue of Philo Farnsworth, Father of TV

Capitol Visitor Center

Address:
1st St. NE, Washington, DC
Directions:
Philo's statue stands in the underground Capitol Visitor Center. Its entrance is just west of 1st St. NE, at the intersection of E. Capitol St. NE.
Hours:
M-Sa 8:30 am - 4:30 pm
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Nearby Offbeat Places

Mormon Church History MuseumMormon Church History Museum, Salt Lake City, UT - < 1 mi.
Floating AstronautFloating Astronaut, Salt Lake City, UT - < 1 mi.
Road Sign Art: You Are HereRoad Sign Art: You Are Here, Salt Lake City, UT - < 1 mi.
In the region:
Virgin Mary in a Stump, Salt Lake City, UT - 2 mi.

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December 16, 2018

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