How to Invent an Industry

AJ Mastav
7 min readMar 26, 2023
Photo by mahdi chaghari on Unsplash

Why is it that the inventor of the light bulb, the telephone, and the radio are all household names, but the inventor of the thing that (until relatively recently) we spent the most time staring at — the television — is not remotely as well known?

Applying Occam’s Razor to this question, we are left with the answer: because aliens bestowed this technology on human beings.

In the movie Men In Black, Tommy Lee Jones explains to a young Will Smith that their organization is funded by their ownership of patents on technology seized by aliens over the years, including Velcro, liposuction, and the microwave. At some point in the years since I first saw that movie, I added television to that list. I recall my physics teacher explaining the basic idea in high school: a beam of electrons gets shot out of a cathode ray tube and onto a phosphorescent screen. Et voila, we all get to watch Family Matters on Friday nights.

Only, this seems too bizarre. For one thing, the origins of the television go back to the 1920s. Which is, in itself, difficult to believe. The first scheduled radio broadcast was only transmitted in 1920, and the first professional baseball game transmitted via radio was in 1921! It’s incredible to think that the first public television broadcast was in 1928.

For another thing, as we all know, television is not a single tiny point of light on a screen — it’s whole pictures featuring people, animals, and cars all doing crazy things like bumping into one another. How could technology from the 1920s possibly build up to the level of sophistication to make it possible to watch something like the chase scene in Bullitt?

If you’re not familiar with how the original cathode ray tube televisions worked, here’s the quick and dirty version:

  • A television camera converts an image into a series of electrical impulses, which can then be transmitted to the rest of the world (let’s say wirelessly, by way of a broadcast antenna, which is the way it worked prior to cable and satellite).

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AJ Mastav

Professional planner, unprofessional writer. Member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. Also, a former Sunday School teacher.