Vale: The Mother of Television

May 2, 2006 As extraordinary as it may seem, one of the people who created the first television died last week when Elma G. "Pem" Farnsworth, author of the Distant Vision: Romance and Discovery on the Invisible Frontier and wife of Philo T. Farnsworth, the inventor of electronic television, died in Bountiful, Utah at the age of 98. Pem married Philo Taylor Farnsworth in 1926. She was on her husband's lab team, handling technical drawings for his experiments with transmitting pictures through the air and was present on September 7, 1927, in San Francisco when his invention of electronic television was first demonstrated successfully. Pem was the first person ever to appear on television and is often referred to as "The Mother of Television", given that her husband is recognised as one of the last lone inventors. Her technical drawings of those early experiments are part of the permanent collection in the Smithsonian Institute. A devout Mormon, she derived her greatest satisfaction in encouraging young people, saying "if you believe you can do it, anything is possible."

After Philo's death in 1971, "Pem" dedicated herself to preserving his legacy, keeping his name in its rightful place among great scientists and inventors of the 20th Century.

She penned her autobiography Distant Vision: Romance and Discovery on the Invisible Frontier in 1990.

Thanks to her efforts Philo was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame, is represented in statuary hall in Washington, D.C., and featured with a handful of inventors on U.S. postal stamps.

Her wish was to live to see a film made of her husband's life.

Well into her 90's, Mrs. Farnsworth was successful in lobbying the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences to create an award honoring her husband's contributions to the medium. She presented the first "Philo T. Farnsworth Award for Technical Excellence in Television" at the Emmy Awards in 2003.

A devout Mormon, she derived her greatest satisfaction in encouraging young people, saying "if you believe you can do it, anything is possible." Philo is quoted in the excellent book The Boy who invented Television, as saying, "I know that God exists. I know that I have never invented anything. I have been a medium by which these things were given to the culture as fast as the culture could earn them. I give all the credit to God."

Pem’s own book Distant Vision: Romance and Discovery on the Invisible Frontier (Pemberly-Kent Publishing) is now a collectable, as is the original biography, The Story of Television – the life of Philo T Farnsworth.

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