Herbert Eugene Ives (1882–1953)


Born in Philadelphia, Ives' was trained by his father in optics, photography and imaging. According to the AT&T website, the elder Ives invented techniques for colour photography and the half-tone process that made the publication of photographs in newspapers and magazines possible.

Herbert worked for his father as an assistant and plant foreman while still a teenager. In 1905, he earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania. In 1908 he earned his doctorate in physics from The Johns Hopkins University with a dissertation on colour photography. Ives held several industrial positions before joining the U.S. Army Signal Corps in 1918 as head of aerial research.

Ives joined AT&T's research division in 1919. His first major responsibility was to develop commercial telephotography, a system that is very similar to yesterday's fax machines, transmitting still photographs via telephone lines. AT&T demonstrated their new telephotography system in 1924, and offered it as a commercial product in 1925. The main customers were newspapers.

In January 1925, Ives proposed speeding up the AT&T facsimilie system "to the point where the product would be television." By December 1925, he had devised an electromechanical system that could transmit images from one laboratory bench to the next. Popular accounts usually leave out the fact that the source image was a still slide. The slide was later replaced by movie film, driven from a projector in synchronism with the mechanically linked transmitting and receiving Nipkow discs.

Dr. Frank Gray contributed a mechanical television camera based on the flying spot system, which illuminated the subject with a rapidly moving, narrow beam of light. Harry Stoller contributed a system for keeping the transmitter and receiver synchronized. Ives first demonstrated this apparatus to AT&T executives on March 10th, 1926. The executives talked to one another via "video telephone". The picture was low-definition with 50 lines of resolution at 16 frames per second—but the image of a human face was recognizable, seen via a 2-inch-by-2½-inch window.

AT&T's interest was in achieving long-distance television, and at this point Ives directed vast manpower towards refining his system. By April 27th, 1927, Ives and at least 200 engineers, scientists and technicians he coordinated contributed to the first demonstration of long-distance television. The transmission was made from Washington D.C. to New York City, a distance of over 200 miles. This consisted of an address by Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, the first televised speech.

Historian R.W. Burns pointed out that, although Ives' television system was superbly engineered, it did not introduce any radically new ideas to television technology. An eminent French physicist, Dauvillier, who saw the demonstration, commented in the Revue General de L'Electricitie: "Finally, the Bell Telephone Company recently succeeded in transmitting to a considerable distance the human face, using (without acknowledgement) the Baird system". On May 24th-26th, 1927 Baird responded with a longer-distance television transmission from London to Glasgow, a distance of 438 miles.

Ives demonstrated a colour television system in 1929 that was similar to that first demonstrated by Baird in 1928. In 1930, he demonstrated two-way television (or picture phone), using video telephone booths connecting the AT&T and Bell Labs headquarters buildings in New York. In 1937, it was the transmission of high-resolution television over coaxial cable. Despite these accomplishments, AT&T's interest in developing television technology waned during the 30s, with American conglomerate RCA picking up where AT&T had left off.

Ives produced scientific papers on the photoelectric effect and on the Doppler effect as it pertains to Albert Einstein's theory of special relativity. Ives was also known for disagreeing with Einstein on relativity. During World War II, he worked on night-vision devices, for which the United States awarded him the Medal of Merit, its highest civilian honor.

Ives retired in 1947. He had published more than 200 papers, and secured more than 100 patents. He died in Montclair, N.J. on Nov. 13, 1953.