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William N. Parker

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Biography

William N. Parker was an early innovator in the development of television broadcasting.

In 1926, Parker had just completed his sophomore year as an electrical engineering student at the University of Illinois-Urbana and was working part-time at GM Scientific Company. GM Scientific was run by two graduate students, A.J. McMaster and Lloyd P. Garner, and it supplied photoelectric cells to Ulysses Sanabria, an inventor who was barely out of his teens, yet was experimenting with television silhouettes in Chicago.

Parker also was exposed to Ray D. Kell’s research in television in 1927 when he took a summer job at General Electric. Kell and his colleagues demonstrated a mechanical television system based on a disc with a spiral of twenty-four holes placed in front of a neon light.

Parker continued to work with Garner and Sanabria throughout his college years and put on a demonstration of mechanical television at his campus.

He became general chief broadcasting engineer for Western Television in Chicago from 1928 to 1933. He built the first commercial system of television broadcasting equipment and receiver sets, installing them in Chicago in 1930. This mechanical television used a scanning disk with forty-five or ninety small holes to capture images and send them to local sets. The images were accompanied with sound transmitted over a radio frequency.

This technology was demonstrated to the public at the 1933 Century of Progress Exhibition, but it did not survive the economic consequences of the Great Depression. Nevertheless, Parker continued to work in the development of television in the late 1930s, helping to design some of the first electronic televisions at the Philco television group beginning in 1934.

In World War II, he worked on classified research for the Army and Navy on electronic tubes. Afterwards, he earned more than twenty patents at RCA Corporation for innovations in circuitry and tubes. His projects ranged from microwave devices to freeze-drying technologies to computers.

He died on February 27, 1997.

Further Reading

William N. Parker, Early Chicago Television, originally published in Electric Pictures Quarterly, July 2000.