The Boy Genius and the Mogul: The Untold Story of Television Essay

The Boy Genius and the Mogul: The Untold Story of Television


             Numerous technical inventions have changed the ways human lead their lives. One such invention that changed the face of entertainment is the television. Before the invention of television, the thought that an individual in one part of the world could see images of events occurring in other part of the world was a fantasy. But this fantasy was turned into a reality with the invention of the television. Television has gained immense popularity among the people all over the world but the person who invented the television led his life in obscurity. The man, who at the young age of fourteen was stuck with an idea regarding mechanics on which the electronic television runs, was Philo T. Farnsworth. Although Farnsworth was responsible for the invention of the electronic television, owing to the economic constraints and rivalry with David Sarnoff, the head of The Radio Corporation of America, Farnsworth’s achievement remained unrecognized. The book The Boy Genius and the Mogul: The Untold Story of Television by Daniel Stashower depicts the struggle of Farnsworth against the corporate world, represented by David Sarnoff.


The lone battle that Farnsworth fought with David Sarnoff and the outcome of this struggle is very well captured in the book. To bring forth the characters of Farnsworth and David Sarnoff, Daniel Stashower details their biographies in his book. The biographies aid in providing an accurate picture of the thinking of these two men who represented the contrasting world of poverty and wealth. The attitudes of these two persons are one of the significant factors that influence the outcome of their struggle. The author provides information about the circumstances in which Farnsworth and David Sarnoff find themselves pitted against each other. Farnsworth, a farm boy was born in Utah and led his life in poor economic conditions.  At the age of fifteen, Farnsworth was stuck by an idea which went on to turn the dream of television into a reality. As the radio had been invented, the scientists and researchers all over the world were concentrating their energies on the invention of television.

 In such circumstances, Farnsworth’s idea of utilizing an image dissector tube placed him ahead of all the innovators striving to invent the television. But to turn his idea into a reality, Farnsworth needed funds and procuring these funds was extremely difficult for Farnsworth, as the social and economic conditions of the world were changing. The corporate world was gaining its hold on the society, and individual accomplishments were becoming rare. Researchers and inventors required huge amounts of funds for carrying out their work of research and the corporate world was the source of these funds. The corporate world and its attempts to seek maximum benefits from the inventions are depicted in the book through the thinking of David Sarnoff.

David Sarnoff was aware of the popularity of radio among the masses. As the invention of radio was funded by RCA, Sarnoff aimed to create a situation where the invention of television was postponed for the time being. “This strategy promised not only to preserve RCA’s dominance of the industry, but also to give Sarnoff’s scientists more time to perfect a commercially viable television system.” (Stashower, 2002). Sarnoff made every attempt to ensure that the first television was invented by the researchers who received funds from RCA, but Farnsworth stood in his way of success. “Before Sarnoff could seize control of television, however he would have to deal with another bright young inventor who was standing squarely in his way.” (Stashower, 2002). Farnsworth desired to invent the television without the support of the corporate world. So he aimed to collect funds for his research through the financial bankers.

Although Farnsworth succeeded in his endeavor by inventing the first electronic television, he was deprived of the credit owing to Sarnoff’s RCA’s television which was developed at the same time. Farnsworth fought a legal battle to claim his invention but lost to the powerful and wealthy Sarnoff. Both Farnsworth and Sarnoff were persistent in their struggle to take the credit for the first invented television. The book brings forth the various intricacies of the legal battle fought between Farnsworth and Sarnoff. The obscurity which surrounds Farnsworth is cleared away by the author. The author reveals the unrelenting qualities of a genius, Farnsworth.

The book presents both Farnsworth and Sarnoff as persons who aim and work hard for the goals set by them. The author never attempts to depict Sarnoff in a negative shade. Sarnoff behaves as a corporate leader is expected to behave to secure benefits for his business. The author mentions about the struggle between Farnsworth and Sarnoff by providing precise information, without holding anyone as moral or immoral.


            Although the book sheds light on the struggle of Farnsworth, the true inventor of the television, the book lacks in some aspects. One of them is the exclusion of technical details regarding the innovation of Farnsworth’s electronic television. The book fails to provide in-depth information about the method implemented by Farnsworth to create the first electronic television. The book focuses mainly on the struggle of Farnsworth and overlooks the technical aspects of the invention which led to the struggle.

            The other weakness that is perceptible throughout the book is the inclusion of stories of other inventors. The numerous stories that run parallel to the story of Farnsworth and Sarnoff lead to confusion. One such story which details the conflicts that arose between Armstrong and Sarnoff is covered by the author to such an extent that it confuses the reader. The author writes about the relation of Armstrong and Sarnoff, and the consequent rifts developed in their relation. “While Armstrong waited expectantly for some mention of FM Revolution, Sarnoff instead made a dramatic announcement that the company would commit $1 million to its television research program.” (Stashower, 2002).  Reading these stories can lead a reader away from the main story which is concerned with the struggle of Farnsworth.


            Television has changed the world of entertainment and made it possible to bring the whole world in the drawing rooms of the people. But the fortunes of the person who invented the television, remained unchanged. It was Philo T. Farnsworth who invented the first electronic television but the world credits RCA for the invention of the television. The book The Boy Genius and the Mogul: The Untold Story of Television depicts the struggle of Farnsworth to convince the world that it was his innovation which led to the creation of first electronic television. The book provides all the particulars regarding the battle that took place between Farnsworth and David Sarnoff but fails to include the technical details of Farnsworth’s innovation.

Works Cited

Stashower, D. (2002). The Boy Genius and the Mogul: The Untold Story of Television.