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Tesla Predicts the Portable TV (1926)

In 1926 Nicola Tesla gave an interview to Collier's Weekly in which he predicted something that sounds remarkably like portable television. Perhaps most interestingly, he mentions that this technology would be used to watch war unfold, "just as though we were present."

NEW YORK, Jan 25 - (AP) - Application of radio principles will enable people by carrying a small instrument in their pockets to see distant events like the sorceress of the magic crystal fairy tales and legends, Nikola Tesla, electrical inventor, predicted today. Mr. Tesla, who on several occasion has tried to communicate with the planet Mars, made his predictions in an interview published in the current issue of Collier's Weekly.

"We shall be able to witness the inauguration of a president, the playing of a world's series baseball game, the havoc of an earthquake, or a battle just as though we were present," Mr. Tesla said.

I'm fascinated by the rise of the moving image during the first half of the 20th century. In the 1920's Thomas Edison was predicting that movies would replace textbooks, D.W. Griffith predicted that motion pictures would overtake the printed word, and Cecille B. Demille said that as the cost of camera equipment came down home movies would soon be produced by average Americans.

Every generation believes that they live in a special age of technological progress, but it is quite humbling to read about the rise of electricity, motion pictures, radio or television and trying to imagine what it must have been like to experience those things for the first time. Without belittling the accomplishments and enormous potential of the internet, I dare say those things were more jaw-dropping than the first time I popped in an AOL CD-ROM.


Article source: January 26, 1926 Nevada State Journal

Photo of Nicola Tesla: Library of Congress


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Without belittling the accomplishments and enormous potential of the internet, I dare say those things were more jaw-dropping than the first time I popped in an AOL CD-ROM.

Strictly based on the various books and accounts from ordinary people of that time that I have read, I wouldn't say they were "jaw dropping" to ordinary people, nor even, really, to those engineers, inventors, scientists and technologists who dealt with them.

Interesting, curious, and useful (for many of the new inventions and discoveries) would be the terms that would come to my mind, to be quickly replaced (at least at the everyday-person level) with more mundane quibbles of their daily life, much like it is today.

Aside from differences in popular culture and variations in language (some of which would seem wholly unfamiliar to us, particularly slang), people of that time period weren't so much different than us in the appreciation of advancement in technology; it was just another part of their life. They didn't run around agape and wide-eye at the technological wonders in their life, much like we don't today.

February 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercr0sh

I remember reading accounts of the first time that people heard phonographs in the 1870s and 1880s. People were absolutely terrified of hearing recorded voices -- they thought the machines were demonically possessed! Recall that from the dawn of humanity until that time, the only way that people could experience music or the spoken word was at a live performance. Each was unique and couldn't be repeated. Yet today we take it for granted that we can listen to the same song umpteen times or look up, say, Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech online whenever we want, and hear it as if we were there the day he gave it. An interesting article about how recordings have changed the way we think about sound is here.

February 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

Nikola Tesla predicted "smartphones" not just portable television.

February 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDeprogrammer9

I was reading an essay a few weeks ago for school about the "myth" of the reaction of the first movie audience. The notion that early audiences were naive and terrified of the apparently real images onscreen is very important for film theory; it is claimed that this early reaction points towards to subjective, irrational, and psychoanalytic relationship people have with films. as the author of the essay pointed out, however, early audiences really weren't really so naive. In this early period before films became 'cinema', before they were understood to have plots or be art, audience's mostly reacted to films with amazement, as they would to a fantastic circus act. Their reaction was, "wow! That picture is moving!", rather than "Get out of the way of that weird b&w train speeding towards us from that white screen!". This attitude towards the film was cemented by the way films were projected - as the audience took their seats they would see a still image onscreen, and as they settled down and prepared for the show, the still image would slowly start moving...
Cinema was an amusing novelty, and advertisers presented it this way.

April 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPhil

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