The telectroscope (also referred to as 'electroscope') was the first non-working prototype (i.e. conceptual model) of a television or videophone system. The term was used in the 19th century to describe science-based systems of distant seeing.
The name and its concept came into being not long after the telephone was patented in 1876, and its original concept evolved from that of remote facsimile reproductions onto paper, into the live viewing of remote images.
Figuier's imaginary telectroscope
The term "telectroscope" was used by the French writer and publisher Louis Figuier in 1878 to popularize an invention wrongly interpreted as real and incorrectly ascribed to Alexander Graham Bell. Figuier was probably misled by the article "The Electroscope" published in The New York Sun of 29 March 1877, as well as a published letter in the journal Nature in April 1878. Written under the pseudonym "Electrician", the New York Sun article claimed that "an eminent scientist", whose name had to be withheld, had invented a device whereby objects or people anywhere in the world "could be seen anywhere by anybody". According to the article, the device would allow merchants to transmit pictures of their wares to their customers, the contents of museum collections would be made available to scholars in distant cities, and (combined with the telephone) operas and plays could be broadcast into people's homes.
In reality, the imagined "telectroscopes" described in the articles had nothing to do with the device being developed by Dr. Bell and his assistant Charles Sumner Tainter which was christened with the ambiguous name photophone. The photophone was actually a wireless optical telephone that conveyed audio conversations on modulated lightbeams, the precursor for today's fiber-optic communications. Bell and Tainter would receive several patents in 1880/1881 for their then cutting-edge invention (master U.S. Patent 235,199), which ironically used the same selenium materials in its receivers that created the initial excitement surrounding the telectroscope's proposals.
Nevertheless the word "telectroscope" was widely accepted. It was used to describe the work of nineteenth century inventors and scientists such as Constantin Senlecq, George R. Carey, Adriano de Paiva, and later Jan Szczepanik, who with Ludwig Kleiberg obtained a British patent (patent nr. 5031) for his device in 1897. Szczepanik's telectroscope, although never actually exhibited and, as some claim, and likely never existed, was covered in the New York Times on April 3, 1898, where it was described as "a scheme for the transmission of colored rays". and it was further developed and presented on the exhibition in Paris in 1900. Szczepanik's experiments fascinated Mark Twain, who wrote a fictional account of his work in his short story From The Times of 1904. Both the imagined "telectroscope" of 1877 and Mark Twain's fictional device had an important effect on the public. They also provided feedback to the researchers.
Neither the fictional nor the real nineteenth century prototype telectroscopes were real television systems. "Telectroscope" was eventually replaced by the term "television", most probably coined by Constantin Perskyi in 1900.
The Telectroscope art installation
In the recent era, 'telectroscope' was the name of an modern art installation constructed by Paul St George in 2008, which provided a visual link between London and New York City. In May–June 2008, artist Paul St George exhibited outdoor interactive video installations linking London and New York City as a fanciful telectroscope. According to the Telectroscope's back story, it used a transatlantic tunnel started by the artist's fictional great-grandfather, Alexander Stanhope St. George. In reality, the installation used two video cameras linked by a VPN connection to provide a virtual tunnel across the Atlantic. The connection used links of between 8 and 50 Mbit/s and the images were transmitted using MPEG-2 compression. The producer of this spectacle was the creative company Artichoke, who previously staged The Sultan's Elephant in London.
The concept of visually linking distant places and continents in real time was previously explored by Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinovitz with Hole in Space (1980), an art installation linking shop windows in New York and Los Angeles as well as by Maurice Benayoun with The Tunnel under the Atlantic between the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Montreal (1995).
- Winston, Brian Misunderstanding Media, Taylor & Francis, 1986, pp.41-43, ISBN 0710200021, ISBN 978-0-7102-0002-0
- Louis Figuier, L'année scientifique et industrielle ou Exposé annuel des travaux scientifiques, des inventions et des principales applications de la science à l'industrie et aux arts, qui ont attiré l'attention publique en France et à l'étranger. Vingt et unième année (1877), Librairie Hachette, Paris, 1878. Reproduced on L'histoire de la télévision . Retrieved 26 May 2008.
- André Lange, L'histoire de la télévision. Retrieved 26 May 2008.
- "The Electroscope", The New York Sun, March 29, 1877. Reproduced on L'histoire de la télévision.
- Carson, Mary Kay (2007), "8", Alexander Graham Bell: Giving Voice To The World, Sterling Biographies, 387 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10016: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., pp. 76–78, ISBN 978-1-4027-3230-0, OCLC 182527281
- "A novel and curious instrument. The Telectroscope", Scientific American, Vol. XL, n°10, New York, 8 March 1879. 
- Constantin Senlecq and his work
- George R. Carey, "Seeing by Electricity", Scientific American of June 5, 1880 
- George R. Carey, "Transmitting, Recording and Seeing Pictures by Electricity", The Electrical Engineer, Jan. 16, 1895, pp.57-58.
- Adriano de Paiva, "A telefonia, a telegraphia e a telescopia", articles of June 1877 and June 1878 
- Polska. Zarys encyklopedyczny. Warszawa: PWN, 1974
- Information about a British patent on the telectroscope for Jan Szczepanik and Ludwig Kleiberg 
- "Der Fernseher (Telelekstroskop)", Die Reichswehr, Vienna, 9 March 1898, n°1466, p.5. 
- Jan Szczepanik: Polish Edison (Polish government web site. Retrieved 26 May 2008
- George Shiers, May Shiers Early Television: A Bibliographic Guide to 1940. Garland, New York, 1996, pg.25
- Johannes Horowitz, That New Telectroscope, New York Times, April 3, 1898, p.22. Retrieved 26 May 2008.
- "Słownik historii Polski", Wiedza Powszechna, Warszawa 1973
- Digitized copy of Mark Twain's From The Times of 1904 from the Cornell University Library. Retrieved 26 May 2008.
- Matthew Price (Friday, 23 May 2008), 'Tunnel' links New York to London, BBC
- Ryzik, Melena (2008-05-21), "Telescope Takes a Long View, to London", The New York Times (The New York Times Company)
- Optical device connects NY, London in real time, The Associated Press, 2008-05-23[dead link]
- Todd, Michael (2008-05-23), Telectroscope Invention Links New York To London, eFluxMedia
- Tiscali helps artist realise extraordinary 'tunnel vision', ResponseSource, 16 June 2008
- The Observer (Sunday May 25, 2008), "You could really get sucked in...", The Guardian (London)
- Margot Lovejoy, Digital Currents: Art in the Electronic Age, Routledge, 2004 pp. 232-234. ISBN 0-415-30780-5
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Telectroscope.|
- Paul St George's Telectroscope Project webpage official web site
- The Telectroscope Project Blog
- BBC News video of the Telectroscope Project
- Telectroscope Video NYC
- The Tunnel under the Atlantic (1995) on Maurice Benayoun's official web site