Philo Farnsworth, inventor of modern TV, was an Eagle Scout

Reprinted from the Fall 2006 issue of Eagletter, the official magazine of the National Eagle Scout Association. 

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TV Pioneer Recognized as Eagle Scout

By Mark Ray

Television pioneer Philo T. Farnsworth (1906–1971) received all sorts of belated honors for his inventions. His statue stands in the U.S. Capitol. His face adorned a U.S. postage stamp. He received an honorary Emmy from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

But he never received his Eagle Scout badge. He’d earned the award but moved out of state before he could receive the badge.

“I’m sure he was a little busy in those years, doing all he was doing,” said Paul Moore, [then] Scout executive of the Great Salt Lake Council.

What Farnsworth was doing was no less than inventing modern television. Throughout his teen years in Utah and Idaho, Farnsworth experimented with techniques for transmitting television pictures electronically instead of mechanically.

He eventually received 160 patents for inventions ranging from television transmitters to infrared night lights to baby incubators.

Television sets at the time of his death relied on roughly 100 of his patents.

Great-nephew makes a discovery, too

His great-nephew, Daniel Farnsworth, learned about the inventor’s missing Eagle badge when he heard his great-aunt, Pem, giving a radio interview about her late husband.

“Her eyes sort of swelled when she told the story, so I think when he told her about it, it was something that meant a lot to him,” Daniel said.

The younger Farnsworth thought it would be nice to have the award presented posthumously and mentioned the idea to Julie Clarke, a Scouting volunteer he knew in Salt Lake City. Clarke contacted the Great Salt Lake Council, which researched the issue.

Last December [2005], council officials visited Pem at her nursing home and presented her with her husband’s long-delayed badge. She died just four months later.

“It’s actually kind of remarkable because it was the last bit of recognition she was able to get for her husband, who received very little recognition during his lifetime,” Daniel Farnsworth said.

About Bryan Wendell 3282 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.