World Day for Audiovisual Heritage: Russian college honours TV innovator

ITU

Among the most important achievements of the 20th century was discovery and spread of television broadcasting, which radically changed the flow of information both within countries and worldwide.

Among the many who contributed to early TV development, Russian physicist and inventor Boris Rosing still stands out as a ground-breaking pioneer.

This week, a technical college in the northern Russian city of Arkhangelsk plans to unveil a bronze bust of physicist and inventor, who spent the final years of his career and life there.

According to the Arkhangelsk Boris Rosing College of Telecommunications, “the development of the cathode-ray tube (CRT) kinescope – which Rosing patented and demonstrated before the First World War – makes him the definitive founder of the electronic TV era.”

Early life and work

The future scientist was born in St. Petersburg, then capital of the Russian Empire, on 23 April 1869 – just four years after the 20-country International Telegraph Conference that laid the groundwork for today’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

The young Rosing studied at the city’s Vvеdensky Gymnasium, from which he graduated with a gold medal, enrolled at St. Petersburg University, and went on to teach and conduct research at the city’s Institute of Technology.

His patent application dated 25 July 1907 described “a method of electrical transmission of images over a distance” – now widely known as television broadcasting.

He soon received patents in Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as Russia.

On 9 May 1911, when Rosing demonstrated his so-called “electric telescope” to the Russian Technical Society, the image of a four-bar array appeared on the tiny screen of an electro-ray tube. This first-ever television broadcast marked the start of a new era.

The Society honoured Rosing at the time with a gold medal and the prestigious Karl Fedorovich Siemens Award.

An unheralded innovator

Boris Rosing received more than 25 patents and inventor’s certificates and published over 50 scientific books and articles.

Among those who assisted him was a student at the St Petersburg Institute of Technology, Vladimir Zvorykin – himself remembered by many Russians as the “father of television”. After emigrating to the United States in the 1920s, he continued refining and improving his teacher’s invention.

But even as Zvorykin gained world renown, he continued noting in his diaries that he had only brought Rosing’s idea to life.

Other key breakthroughs include the electronic video camera invented in the US by Philo Farnsworth (1927) and the live TV set (1926), transatlantic transmission (1928) and fully electronic colour TV (1941) from UK electrical engineer James Logie Baird.

Yet to this day, the basic operation of all visual reproduction via television devices derives from principles discovered by Rosing. While his system still used optical-mechanical transmission, he foresaw a future reliant on fully electronic systems.

Northern twilight

Russia’s 1917 revolution forced Rosing to move to the southern city of Yekaterinodar (now Krasnodar), where he opened the local Polytechnic Institute and became Vice-Rector and Professor of Physics. Later, back in Leningrad (Soviet-era St Petersburg), he created several new CRT designs, continually improving the transmitting and receiving device.

He spent the last years of his life in the northern towns of Kotlas and Arkhangelsk, where he taught at the Forestry Institute. Rosing died as a political exile on 20 April 1933 and was buried in the Arkhangelsk’s Vologda cemetery.

Collegial commemoration

The Arkhangelsk College of Telecommunications, formerly the Northern Regional Electrical Engineering College, was founded in 1930 and trained electrical engineers of strong and weak currents in the field of radio, telephone, and telegraph communications. Since 1999, it has been a branch of the Bonch-Bruevich Saint Petersburg State University of Telecommunications (SPbSUT), training specialists in 14 areas of the modern telecommunications sector, including television.

The idea of renaming the Arkhangelsk College after Rosing was first announced at a scientific conference for the 150th anniversary of Rosing’s birth. Although Boris Rosing never taught there, the college had continued his work in the field of professional education for the communications industry in the Russian north.

The Arkhangelsk Boris Rosing College of Telecommunications has installed the commemorative bust with active public assistance from Arkhangelsk.

The World Day for Audiovisual Heritage has taken place every 27 October since 2005, when the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) chose this date to raise awareness about the significance and preservation risks of recorded sound and audiovisual documents.

Every 21 November, World Television Day celebrates the power of broadcast media as a global information source.

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