Television of the Third Reich
|The broadcast sign-on image for the German television network (1938).|
|The German postal service was responsible for promoting Third Reich TV.|
Let's take a look at Third Reich TV and see what it was all about.
Background of Third Reich TVThere is a bit of a myth that television is a purely American invention. In fact, television was the result of work by scientists around the world. Its immediate ancestor was the fax machine, first developed by Italian priest Giovanni Caselli in 1856. That got people thinking about transmitting images, and wouldn't it be great if they moved? The key advance in the early days was made by Paul Julius Gottlieb Nipkow, a Pomeranian 23-year-old university student, in 1884. He developed what he called the "electric telescope." The key part of his invention was what later came to be called the Nipkow disk, a spinning disk with a pattern of holes that each could scan a single line of an image. It had 18 lines of resolution. Nipkow quickly patented the disk, German patent No. 30105, granted on 15th January 1885, retroactive to 6th January 1884. Nipkow got involved in other things and allowed the patent to lapse, but his contribution was not forgotten and became a source of German pride. Later inventors, such as Lee de Forest, built upon Nipkow's work, which was far ahead of its time in terms of the technology available to make it do anything practical.
|John Logie Baird with his original experimental Baird television apparatus, September 1926. The Nipkow disk can be seen clearly.|
The Nipkow Disk was extremely clever and got the ball rolling in terms of television development, but it was a bit impractical. It was the television equivalent of a pinhole camera - it worked, but was kind of a dead-end for advanced transmission. Working in San Francisco, Philo Farnsworth, building on the work of others such as Kenjiro Takayanagi of Japan (as all scientists/engineers do), perfected an alternate transmission method. It was called "all-electronic" and had no mechanical parts. Farnsworth demonstrated it at the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia on August 25, 1934. This used a live camera and was much more practical than systems using the mechanical Nipkow disk. It was this huge advance that led to the misconception that television is an American invention, but television was developed by different men around the world. And Hitler's Germany had a use for it.
Third Reich TelevisionLet's get the technical background out of the way first. German engineers were working hard on television in the 1920s and 1930s, just like their counterparts in other countries. The first electromechanical broadcasts there began in 1929, and they began transmitting sound as well in 1934. That's a pretty phenomenal achievement, considering that theatrical films had only begun adding sound in 1928.
|A television image produced by Manfred von Ardenne in December 1930.|
|An image from Manfred von Ardenne's "flying spot film scanner" of April 1931. It has a 60-line picture with a horizontal scan rate of 1500 Hz and a vertical scan rate of 25 Hz.|
|Paul Nipkow, standing behind the microphone on the left, appearing on German television in 1937.|
|The E1. You can see this at Rundfunkmuseum der Stadt Fürth, Kurgartenstraße 37, 90762 Fürth, Germany.|
|Walter Bruch at the 1936 Olympics.|
Third Reich ProgrammingThe 1936 Berlin Olympic Games put Third Reich television on the map. Two firms broadcast the Berlin Games - Telefunken and Fernseh, using RCA and Farnsworth equipment, respectively.
|German television cameras at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.|
|A television viewing parlor in Berlin around the time of the Olympics. Admission was free.|
|There were 21 television cameras used at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. This appears to be the Fernsehkanonen (television canon), which was 6 feet long. Three of these cameras were used at the Olympics.|
|Broadcasting the 1936 Olympics.|
The People's TV has a bright picture of deep contrast and sharpness without distortion. This results from its cutting-edge picture tube, which is rectangular with a flat fluorescent screen, preventing typical barrelling at the edges ("does not look like it was pulled over a roller").... [T]he dimensions of the screen are 19.5 cm x 22.5 cm with a diagonal of 30 cm.The sets were highly advanced for the time, at least on a par with US sets of the 1950s. The physical display size was 7.68" × 8.86," and a color television version also was shown at the exhibit simply to demonstrate the technology (but was not going to be marketed). The sets could function solely as radios, too, which remained the main means of propaganda throughout the war on both sides. Production of the E1, despite its obvious allure, was canceled in favor of war production after war broke out on 1 September 1939.
|The Germans had a television broadcasting antenna on the Eiffel Tower, originally put there by the fledgling French television service.|
|The Paris call-sign of Third Reich TV.|
|Ilse Werner, talented singer, on Third Reich TV. Some of the acts were quite good.|
|This fine fellow delivers one of the creepiest monologues in television history.|
Military ApplicationsThe Third Reich hierarchy might have viewed television as somewhat of a gimmick when the war began, but developments during the war made Third Reich scientists give it a second look. The Luftwaffe developed wire-controlled missiles which proved effective and even radio-controlled missiles. These all required visual observation of the missile from relatively close distances. But what if you could sit in your plane above the clouds - or over the horizon - and guide the missile with radio controls while watching its flight on a television screen? That would be a lot more effective, both for the crew of the plane controlling the missile and improving the chances of the missile hitting its target at all.
Television Remote Control
|German World War II television remote control for missiles.|
|Henschel Hs 117 Schmetterling.|
|The A4/V2 launch pad at Peenemunde, 1943 (Federal Archive).|
ConclusionThird Reich television lasted for about a decade. The clips that survive make for startling viewing. There are hints throughout the of the more brutal aspects of German culture, presented in a way that is eerily reminiscent of modern television programs. There is a lesson for us there. When that attractive woman sitting behind the desk in front of the camera starts talking, remember that she is advancing an agenda today just as much as the German presenters did during World War II. Learning about Third Reich television helps to hammer home the point that technology itself is morally neutral; it is the people behind the scenes who decide whether it is used for good or evil.