Don Gale: The strange case of Bishop’s sausage and Gardiner’s Idaho

Philo Farnsworth was very much a Utahn, and deserving of all his honors.

(Thomas Burr | The Salt Lake Tribune) A marble base of the Philo T. Farnsworth statue at the U.S. Capitol proclaims him to be the "Father of Television."

Utah Rep. Rob Bishop tells visitors to the nation’s capitol that the statue of Utah native Philo Farnsworth shows him holding a “sausage.” And state Rep. Adam Gardiner thinks Farnsworth spent “much of his life” in Idaho. (“Utah legislator wants TV inventor’s statue out of U.S. Capital,” Salt Lake Tribune, Aug. 8.)

No wonder nothing gets done in Washington. No wonder Utah lawmakers often do more harm than good.

For Mr. Bishop’s seemingly empty Philo Farnsworth data bank, the “sausage” Farnsworth holds is a bronze representation of what he called an “image dissector tube,” the first ever device to translated images into electronic signals. In other words, the miraculous invention that made electronic television possible. Farnsworth’s creativity obviously changed the world — and continues to change it. Think of Farnsworth when you watch TV, take an electronic photo, transmit a photo, or check a friend’s photo update. Can sausage do that?

Farnsworth held more than 300 patents, including a baby incubator, an electron microscope, a medical device for looking inside the stomach and many more. He played a vital role in developing radar for World War II, as well as other important electronic applications for national defense.

For Mr. Gardiner’s information, Philo Farnsworth was born in a log cabin near Beaver, Utah, in 1906. His family moved their 11-year-old child to Idaho in 1917. He returned to Utah in 1922. Does that sound like “much of his life”? Farnsworth married a Utah woman, Elma “Pem” Gardner, in 1926.

Gardiner wants to replace the Farnsworth statue in Statuary Hall with a statue of Martha Hughes Cannon, a person well deserving of honors. But Gardiner thinks only members of the Farnsworth family will object. Wrong! I am not related to any Farnsworths, and I object. So do most historians who know anything about television history, about the financial and legal insults Philo and Pem suffered while working to protect his legacy, and about the lengthy struggle to install Farnsworth’s statue in the nation’s capitol.

August 19 is Farnsworth’s birthday. He deserves to be remembered by Utah and the nation.

The Tribune story said: “There was no real effort to commission another Utah statue, so Farnsworth became Utah’s choice largely due to heavy lobbying by school children from Ridgecrest Elementary School ... according to an archived article from the Deseret News.”

Sorry, but the News was wrong. The Legislature considered several suggestions for Utah’s second allocated statue in Statuary Hall, including Eliza Snow, Farnsworth and others. Broadcast visionary Arch Madsen, then president of Bonneville International Corporation, was an advocate for Farnsworth. I suggested to Pem Farnsworth that she talk to the principal of Ridgecrest School. I knew the students there lobbied for at least one bill each year as part of their education experience. No doubt, the students tipped the scales at the Legislature, but the effort had been under way for some time.

I also helped Pem Farnsworth publish her book about her husband’s remarkable life. (In 1990, Pem invited me to attend the formal unveiling of the statue in the nation’s capitol.)

There have been dozens of books, articles and television shows about Philo Farnsworth. Too bad neither Rep. Sausage nor Rep. Idaho bothered to glance at even one of them.

Don Gale.

Don Gale never met Philo T. Farnsworth, but he knew the great Utah inventor well.