A full year before Campbell Swinton’s 1908 letter to Nature, a Russian, Boris L’vovitch Rozing, had patented, in London as well as in Berlin and St Petersburg, an all-electric television cathode ray tube receiver. In the year of Campbell Swinton’s presidential address, this same Russian actually transmitted a signal to his receiver.
The cold war casts a curious shadow across the history of television. The earliest published accounts of its technological emergence were written from the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s during which decades the accident of Rozing’s birthplace had assumed a significance it otherwise would not have had. British writers in the 1930s claimed that Campbell Swinton’s analysis of the basic problem was, despite the fact that he did not work on his proposed solution, superior to Rozing’s more pragmatic approach. An American account dating from the 1950s described Campbell Swinton’s 1911 proposal as ‘a still more startling invention’ than Rozing’s work (Jensen 1954:175; emphasis added).
The Soviet treatment of technological history was the butt of much Western humour, although Russian ‘firstism’ about aeronautics was substantially boosted by Sputnik (Winston 1993:193). Everything from spiral mechanical scanning to a sequential colour system was supposedly patented in Russia before 1900. Nevertheless, such Stalinist claims that Russians had invented both radio (Popov) and television (Rozing) are no less—and no more—substantial and, at least as far as television is concerned, compared well with British pretensions in these matters. Certainly Rozing’s experiment is of a quite different magnitude from Campbell Swinton’s musings, for all that the latter envisaged the more completely modern scheme that was to prevail three decades later. But Rozing’s is an achievement that neither the chauvinism of others nor the rodomontade of official Soviet accounts should be allowed to taint although, since his contributions all predate the revolution, the rhetoric of the latter was faintly comic.