Henry Sutton & Nikola Tesla

In London in 1892, Henry Sutton discussed his system of transmitting images with Nikola Tesla who would had read about it in Scientific American prior to his arrival in London. Tesla was interested in Henry’s invention and with William Preece who was in charge of the London Telegraph Office helped Henry and Tesla to test the system to see how well it could transmit and image over the post office telegraph line. Henry Sutton was the first Australian inventor to successfully transmit a photograph in Australia, and with the aid of Preece and Tesla, to repeat that success in England. The problem that would plague inventors in the years to come was how to perfectly synchronize the rapidly spinning discs over a long distance in order to transmit moving pictures.


Henry Sutton attended Nikola Tesla’s lecture on “Alternating Currents” which was a turning point in science, as Tesla also talked about wireless telegraphy transmission. This was the moment in Henry’s life that forever changed the direction of his scientific research. The limitations of transmitting images via telegraph lines were painfully obvious but Henry in that moment saw the future just as Tesla did, and immediately became convinced that it would be eventually possible to transmit images wirelessly. So, in 1893 when Henry returned to Australia, he put aside all his work on his telephane and facsimile systems and began experiments with wireless telegraphy in the hope that he could find a way to wirelessly transmit photographs and worked tirelessly on the problem until he died in 1912.

As we know Henry Sutton’s dream of the transmission of moving pictures did eventuate and 43 inventors later with the advancement of technology, it was a Scottish engineer and inventor by the name of John Logie Baird who finally came up with the first working television system in 1926. The image transmitted by Baird at that time was faint, and often blurred, but was clearly visible. A viewer could clearly see movement and expressions on the face of the person in the image. Baird called his television a ‘Televisor’. Baird would have been well aware of the principles of Henry Sutton’s telephane system as they were used to successfully transmit the first moving pictures, as the late Dr Clive Coogan explained:

“Baird’s Television used an upgraded photocell, as the photoelectric effect was superior to the photoconduction of a selenium cell. He also used Nipkow discs in his transmitter and receiver, synchronised frames and employed radio transmission instead of a sluggish telegraph. Baird drew upon advances in the infant science of electronics and particularly by the development by Braun in Germany of the cathode ray oscilloscope – the basis of the modern TV picture tube – that modulated light much more simply and rapidly than Sutton’s kerosene lamp, Kerr cell and polarisers. Baird could also use wireless transmission, where Sutton was limited by telegraph technology, with its inherently low rate of information transmission.”