When he was six, towheaded Philo Taylor Farnsworth became so delighted with a toy dynamo that he solemnly declared he hoped he had been born an inventor. By 1921, when he was 15, Philo had conceived a basic principle of television—electronic scansion of an image.

Soon learning there was no spot cash up that alley, the young inventor turned to more practical pursuits. To earn money for his first pair of long pants, he invented a thief-proof auto lock which netted him $25. At 19 he was working in a railroad yard. Then...

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