The origins of what would become today's television system can be traced back to the discovery of the photoconductivity of the element selenium by Willoughby Smith in 1873, and the invention of a scanning disk by Paul Nipkow in 1884. The two inventions were first joined for practical use in the electronic transmission of still pictures and photographs, and by the first decade of the 20th century halftone photographs were being transmitted by telegraph and telephone lines as a newspaper service.
The German student Paul Nipkow proposed and patented the first electromechanical television system in 1884. Nipkow's spinning disk design is credited with being the first television image rasterizer. Constantin Perskyi had coined the word television in a paper read to the International Electricity Congress at the International World Fair in Paris on August 25, 1900. Perskyi's paper reviewed the existing electromechanical technologies, mentioning the work of Nipkow and others.
However, it wasn't until 1907 that developments in amplification tube technology made the design practical. The first demonstration of the instantaneous transmission of still images was by Georges Rignoux and A. Fournier in Paris in 1909, using a rotating mirror-drum as the scanner, and a matrix of 64 selenium cells as the receiver.
In 1911, Boris Rosing and his student Vladimir Kosma Zworykin created a television system that used a mechanical mirror-drum scanner to transmit, in Zworykin's words, "very crude images" over wires to the electronic Braun tube (cathode ray tube) in the receiver. Moving images were not possible because, in the scanner, "the sensitivity was not enough and the selenium cell was very laggy."
On March 25, 1925, Scottish inventor John Logie Baird gave a demonstration of televised silhouette images in motion at Selfridge's Department Store in London. But if television is defined as the transmission of live, moving, half-tone (grayscale) images, and not silhouette or still images, Baird achieved this privately on October 2, 1925. Then he gave the world's first public demonstration of a working television system to members of the Royal Institution and a newspaper reporter on January 26, 1926 at his laboratory in London. Unlike later electronic systems with several hundred lines of resolution, Baird's vertically scanned image, using a scanning disk embedded with a double spiral of lenses, had only 30 lines, just enough to reproduce a recognizable human face.
In 1927 Baird transmitted a signal over 438 miles of telephone line between London and Glasgow. In 1928 Baird's company (Baird Television Development Company / Cinema Television) broadcast the first transatlantic television signal, between London and New York, and the first shore to ship transmission. He also demonstrated an electromechanical color, infrared (dubbed "Noctovision"), and stereoscopic television, using additional lenses, disks and filters. In parallel he developed a video disk recording system dubbed "Phonovision"; a number of the Phonovision recordings, dating back to 1927, still exist. In 1929 he became involved in the first experimental electromechanical television service in Germany. In 1931 he made the first live transmission, of the Epsom Derby. In 1932 he demonstrated ultra-short wave television. Baird's electromechanical system reached a peak of 240 lines of resolution on BBC television broadcasts in 1936, before being discontinued in favor of a 405 line all-electronic system.
In the U.S., Charles Francis Jenkins was able to demonstrate on June 13, 1925, the transmission of the silhouette image of a toy windmill in motion from a naval radio station to his laboratory in Washington, using a lensed disk scanner with 48 lines per picture, 16 pictures per second. AT&T's Bell Telephone Laboratories transmitted half-tone images of transparencies in May 1925. But Bell Labs gave the most dramatic demonstration of television yet on April 7, 1927, when it field tested reflected-light television systems using small-scale (2 by 2.5 inches) and large-scale (24 by 30 inches) viewing screens over a wire link from Washington to New York City, and over-the-air broadcast from Whippany, New Jersey. The subjects, which included Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, were illuminated by a flying spot beam and scanned by a 50-aperture disk at 16 pictures per second.