Kálmán Tihanyi

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Kálmán Tihanyi
Kálmán Tihanyi
Born28 April 1897
Died26 February 1947 (1947-02-27) (aged 49)
Alma materUniversity of Pozsony, BME University Budapest
Known forElectronic Television, Plasma Display, Infrared camera, Optically controlled automatic pilotless aircraft
Scientific career
Fieldsinventor, engineer, physicist

Kálmán Tihanyi (Hungarian: [ˈkaːlmaːn ˈtihɒɲi]), or in English language technical literature often mentioned as Coloman Tihanyi or Koloman Tihanyi (28 April 1897 – 26 February 1947) was a Hungarian physicist, electrical engineer and inventor. One of the early pioneers of electronic television, he made significant contributions to the development of cathode ray tubes (CRTs), which were bought and further developed by the Radio Corporation of America (later RCA),[1][2] and German companies Loewe and Fernseh AG.[citation needed] He invented and designed the world's first automatic pilotless aircraft in Great Britain. He is also known for the invention of the first infrared video camera in 1929, and coined the first flat panel plasma display in 1936. His Radioskop patent was recognized as a Document of Universal Significance by the UNESCO, and thus became part of the Memory of the World Programme on September 4, 2001.[3]


Early life, WW1 and education[edit]

Graphic from Kálmán Tihanyi's "Radioskop" patent (1926)
From European Patent Office abstract of Tihanyi's 1928 application Improvements in television apparatus[4]
Kalman Tihanyi as a scientist of British Air Ministry
Graphic from Tihanyi's plasma display patent (1936)

Born in Üzbég, Kingdom of Hungary (now Zbehy, Slovakia), after graduating from the local elementary school, Tihanyi's parents enrolled him in the Vocational School of Electrical Engineering in Pozsony (now Bratislava). While a student there he filed his first patent application with the Hungarian Patent Office in 1913, at the age of sixteen. The title of the patent was, "Pocket device for light handling of photographic plates". The first contract of his life was signed with a Viennese company, which purchased his equipment for the central, wireless switching on and off of road lights. At that time, he continued his high school studies in Vác, he graduated here as well, and the following year, in 1916, he entered the Hungarian Royal Army as a volunteer. As an officer candidate for the 4th Army Artillery Regiment he handled cannons on the eastern front and was then transferred to Transylvania, where he took part in the battles at one of the most important crossings in the Eastern Carpathians, the Ojtozi Strait. He was awarded a bronze medal of valor and promoted to the rank of lieutenant. Soon after he was transferred to one of the most important military ports of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in Pula, where he no longer served as a soldier in a combat unit, but as a radio engineer, and for the first time in his life he came in contact with military technical developments. He designed a remotely controlled igniter for timing and detonating underwater shafts, and his land mine was credited as a distinguished military invention.

Interwar period[edit]

After World War I, Kálmán Tihanyi, who returned to civil life, continued his studies at the Royal Hungarian Joseph University of Technology in Budapest (today: Budapest University of Technology and Economics, commonly known as the Technical University), where the young man who has recently lost his father was left without any income. Luckily, he found a friend in Professor Imre Pöschl, who recognized his talent, while he could sell more and more patents and inventions, he could enjoy an increasing income, thus he could support his widowed mother and nine siblings.

Tihany's attention was already drawn to the attempts to create television during World War I. After Tihanyi studied Maxwell's equations, he discovered a hitherto unknown physical phenomenon.

The problem of low sensitivity to light resulting in low electrical output from transmitting or "camera" tubes would be solved with the introduction of charge-storage technology by Tihanyi in the beginning of 1924.[5] His final design was patented under the name "Radioskop" (Hungarian patent: T-3768) on 20 March 1926. He described his cathode ray tube, charge-storage television system in not one, but in three versions - wired, wireless, and color, which meant he was thinking of color television even when black and white films were made in the vast majority of the film industry. His patent application contained 42 pages detailing its design and mass production. It is recorded in UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme.[3] Though it bears certain similarities to earlier proposals employing a cathode ray tube (CRT) for both transmitter and receiver, Tihanyi's system represented a radical departure. Like the final, improved version Tihanyi would patent in 1928, it embodied an entirely new concept in design and operation, building upon a technology that would become known as the "storage principle". This technology involves the maintenance of photoemission from the light-sensitive layer of the detector tube between scans. By this means, accumulation of charges would take place and the "latent electric picture" would be stored. Tihanyi filed two separate patent applications in 1928 then extended patent protection beyond Germany,[6][7] filing in France,[8] the United Kingdom,[9][10] the United States, and elsewhere.

However, the radically new concepts what he represented in his Radioskop patent were not widely understood and recognised by the contemporary professionals until around 1930.[11]


In 1928, Tihanyi went to Berlin, where the development of mechanical television involving Nipkow disks had already been begun by the German Post Office and the larger manufacturers. He set up his own laboratory in Berlin, where he made his first experimental picture tube with his younger brother, who also was an electrical engineer. The invention was received with enthusiasm by Telefunken and Siemens, but in the end, they opted to continue with the development of mechanical television.[12] Then he was approached by the American Radio Corporation of America (RCA), contracted with him to purchase his patent, and began laboratory development of the image resolution tube. After a few months, the first well-functioning American camera tubes which based on Tihanyi's ideas were completed by Vladimir Zworykin at RCA, and the new television system was named the iconoscope.


In 1929, Tihanyi patented his new military invention under the title: "Automatic sighting and directing devices for torpedoes, guns and other apparatus" (See: British patent GB352035A) In 1929, he moved to London, where he was invited to work on television guidance for defense applications, building prototypes of a camera for remotely guided aircraft for the British Air Ministry, and later adapting it for the Italian Navy.[12][13] The solutions of the technology what Tihanyi depicted in his 1929 patent were so influential, that American UAV producing companies still used many of its ideas even half century later, until the mid 1980s.[14] In 1929, he invented the World's first infrared-sensitive (night vision) electronic television camera for anti-aircraft defense in Britain.[15][16] In London he was commissioned with the designing of the remote-control devices and fire control systems for tanks, anti-aircraft guns and anti-aircraft reflectors for Britain.

Tihanyi's U.S. patents for his display and camera tubes, assigned to RCA, were issued in 1938 and 1939, respectively.[1][2]


In 1936 Tihanyi described the principle of "plasma television" and conceived the first flat-panel television system.[17] It involved a single “transmission point” being moved at great speed behind a grid of cells arranged in a thin panel display, which would be excited to different levels by varying the voltages to the point[18]

World War Two[edit]

"Titan" Ultrasound weapon[edit]

In the summer of 1940, he returned home with an elaborate plan for the acoustic beam projector. The experiments with Titan Ultrasound Weapon, codenamed TVR, were surrounded by the greatest secret.[19] To achieve this, it soon reached an agreement with the approval of the Supreme Military Technical Council. It was completed by the end of 1941 by organizing the work, making construction drawings, setting up a plant and two laboratories. The large workpieces were made in the Ganz and Láng factories; everything else, including a 2-meter-diameter parabolic mirror, was manufactured by themselves. He selected 45 Jewish origin employees of the Hungarian Royal Special Military Corps, including nine engineers, from the ranks of military labourers. In this way, Tihanyi could help his Jewish origin friends and colleagues to avoid the deportation. In the second half of 1943, the situation became increasingly tense because of his staff, who were occasionally replaced by potentially dangerous people. Tihanyi had no doubt, that they were placed under surveillance and it was also leaked that he joined to Endre Bajcsy-Zsilinszky's anti-fascist circle which included György Parragi, Sándor Márai, Jenő Katona, Pál Almássy, István Barankovics, Nomád (István Léner Lendvai) and Jenő Tombor. He considered it increasingly probable that the machine would not only serve the Hungarian interests but that it could now inevitably fall into German hands. Thus began the delay in completion while maintaining the appearance of "work". After the German occupation of Hungary, Tihanyi emerged in a desperate situation. On 5 April 1944, he and his main collaborators were arrested by the Gestapo. On April 11, 1944, he was taken from Hadik Barracks to Margit Boulevard Military Prison, where he was held in probation for five months, in solitary confinement, he was accused of high treason as an alleged British Agent and member of MI6. Despite having only a loose contact with MI6 officers during his scientific work for the Royal Air Force and Air Ministry, Tihanyi was not a member of the British Secret Intelligence Service.

Post War period and death[edit]

At the end of the war, despite his physically deteriorated condition, he was back to working 16–17 hours a day. In his factory, he started to manufacture his new solution (internally hollow) ball bearing. Already in June 1945, he took steps to found a Hungarian television company, build a transmitter station and organise a picture tube factory. He postponed this plan, however, and, choosing among dozens of ideas based on ultrasound technology. He decided to work on his invention of a gold centrifuge. To realise this idea, he decided to develop his own invention. He teamed up with professor Lajos Lóczy, the director of the Institute of Geology, to build a prototype.

His first heart attack in the winter of 1946 indicated that his body could not cope with the accelerated pace. But a second heart attack overcame him and ended his life immediately on 26 February 1947.

Charge-storage and a new physical phenomenon (1924)[edit]

In a Technikatörténeti Szemle article, subsequently reissued on the internet, entitled The Iconoscope: Kalman Tihanyi and the Development of Modern Television, Tihanyi's daughter Katalin Tihanyi Glass notes that her father found the "storage principle" included a "new physical phenomenon", the photoconductive effect:

The earliest reference to the new phenomenon this writer found is in an article, entitled "About the Electrical Television", written by Kalman Tihanyi and published on May 3, 1925, nearly one year prior to his first application for patent on an all-electronic television system. Although the inventor does not use the term "storage principle" of "storage effect", the description of the new phenomenon he had discovered implies that that is exactly what he had in mind. Thus, he wrote:

"The writer of this article has studied thoroughly all phenomena known from the current state of the physical sciences which could be applied to the solution of the problem and on the basis of control calculations found them unfit for the achievement of the minimally required 1/80,000 s efficiency at the transmitting station. However, during experimentation a new physical phenomenon was discovered, under which the optical and the electrical effect is practically simultaneous. In fact displacement between the two effects could not be detected with our instruments, although the possibility exists for a displacement of 1/400,000,000 of a second based on Maxwell's equations in regard to a related phenomenon. This means that under this phenomenon not only the desirable 1/150,000 second changes, but 1/400 million changes can be followed" (K. Tihanyi: "Az elektromos távolbavetítésről" ("About electric teleprojection"), Nemzeti Újság magazine, May 3, 1925, p. 23). (Emphasis added.)

An investigation of various dictionaries and lexicons confirms that, indeed, in addition to the photoelectric (or photoemissive) effect, storage television technology also involves an entirely different phenomenon.

Evident from these characterizations is that while under the photoelectric effect bound electrons released from such photosensitive materials vary linearly with the frequency of the radiation, "that is for each incident photon an electron is ejected", under the storage effect a photoconductive and photovoltaic phenomenon occurs where ("apart from the liberation of electrons from metals") when photons are absorbed in a p-n junction (in a semiconductor) or metal-semiconductor junction, "new free charge carriers are produced", (photoconductive effect) and where "the electric field in the junction region causes the new charge carriers to move, creating a flow of current in an external circuit without the need for a battery", (photovoltaic effect) (The International Dictionary of Physics and Electronics, N.Y. 1956, 1961, pp. 126, 183, 859-861, 863, 1028-1028, 1094-1095).

The Concise Dictionary of Physics under the heading, "Photoelectric Cells", differentiates between "the original photocells" (which utilized photoemission from a photosensitive surface and their attraction by the anode) and "the more modern photocells which utilize the photoconductive and photovoltaic effect" (The Concise Dictionary of Physics, Oxford, 1985).[20]

See also[edit]


  • "Radioskop", filed March 2o, 1926. File No. T-3768, Patent Office Documents, Hungarian National Archives.
  1. ^ a b United States Patent Office, Patent No. 2,133,123, Oct. 11, 1938.
  2. ^ a b United States Patent Office, Patent No. 2,158,259, May 16, 1939.
  3. ^ a b "Kalman Tihanyi's 1926 Patent Application "Radioskop"". UNESCO Memory of the World. 2001. Retrieved 29 January 2009.
  4. ^ Tihanyi, Koloman, Improvements in television apparatus. European Patent Office, Patent No. GB313456. Convention date (Germany): 1928-06-11, UK application: 1929-06-11, published: 1930-11-11, retrieved: 2009-12-25.
  5. ^ [1] Archived 2015-09-24 at the Wayback Machine "Kálmán Tihanyi (1897–1947)", IEC Techline, International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), 2009-07-15.
  6. ^ German appl. 424822/June 11, 1928
  7. ^ German appl. 482422/July 3, 1928
  8. ^ Fr. Pat. 676.546/June 10, 1928
  9. ^ Br. Pat 313,456/June 11, 1928
  10. ^ Br. Pat 315,362/July 11, 1928
  11. ^ Williams, J. B. (2017). The Electronics Revolution: Inventing the Future. Cham: Springer Nature. p. 29. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-49088-5. ISBN 978-3-319-49088-5. OCLC 999399256.
  12. ^ a b "KÁLMÁN TIHANYI (1897 - 1947)". Hungarian Intellectual Property Office. Retrieved 2014-06-03.
  13. ^ "Remote Piloted Aerial Vehicles : The 'Aerial Target' and 'Aerial Torpedo' in Britain". Archived from the original on 2017-09-10. Retrieved 2009-01-23.
  14. ^ "Automatic sighting and directing devices for torpedoes, guns and other apparatus". Retrieved 22 May 2023.
  15. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-12. Retrieved 2009-08-15.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  16. ^ "Kalman Tihanyi (1897 - 1947) - Television Pioneer". Archived from the original on 2003-10-24. Retrieved 2009-06-16.
  17. ^ Tihanyi, Katalin, "Kalman Tihanyi's plasma television, invented in the 1930s. Introduction to the article written by Julius Horvath." Archived 2007-07-02 at the Wayback Machine MTESZ SCITECH, 2007-01-16, retrieved 2009-05-30.
  18. ^ Trivia answers ewh.ieee.org
  19. ^ Istvan Balajtr and Ferenc Hajdu: Surprising Findings from the Hungarian Radar Developments in the Era of the Second World War. Publisher: Radio Science Bulletin No 358 (September 2016) Page: 100, LINK: [2]
  20. ^ Glass, Katalin Tihanyi, The Iconoscope: Kalman Tihanyi and the Development of Modern Television. Revised 2000-06-23, retrieved 2009-12-25.

External links[edit]

Thinkers through the Ages, Scientists and Inventors