The First Sports Video


For this, my first post on a Sports Video Group blog, I thought I’d look back at the first sports video. Ah, but when was that?

Press coverage of the 2009 book “Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World,” by David Maraniss, sometimes said those were the first Olympic Games to be televised. They weren’t. The 1948 London Olympics were televised, and they weren’t the first, either.


Princeton at Columbia, NBC 1939

Princeton at Columbia, NBC TV 1939

On March 3, 1940, The New York Times noted that “It is becoming increasingly evident to the telecasters in handling athletic events in a wide-playing area such as required by baseball, football and hockey that more than one camera is necessary.” The previous year, on May 18, Louis Effrat reported in the same newspaper that the previous day’s second baseball game between Columbia and Princeton “was televised by the National Broadcasting Company, the first regularly scheduled sporting event to be pictured over the air waves.”

It wasn’t. And never mind even the bicycle race that NBC had begun televising two days earlier.

A football (soccer) match between Arsenal and Arsenal Reserves was televised in England on September 16, 1937.  The Wimbledon tennis tournament was on TV before that.  And amateur boxing had been televised on February 4 of that year.

1936 Olympics TV "cannon"

1936 Olympics TV "cannon"

The Berlin Olympic Games of 1936 were also televised, using multiple cameras and remote trucks.  A number of viewing theaters were set up. And even they weren’t the first sporting events on the air.

A photo shot in 1933 captured an image on a picture tube of a baseball game at Boston’s Braves Field. Was that from a telecast? How about the 1931 baseball game shot in live video at Waseda University in Japan? No matter. On June 3, 1931, the Epsom Derby horse race was telecast to the public in England.

Was that the first sports telecast? In the sense of something actually transmitted to the viewing public, maybe it was. But it wasn’t the first time sports was associated with video.

Tennis on a Bell Labs roof in 1928

Tennis on a Bell Labs roof in 1928

Live images of athletes had been televised before the Derby. And Bell Telephone Laboratories employees swung tennis rackets and golf clubs (sometimes while wearing three-piece suits) in front of TV cameras in 1928, viewed on both small- and large-screen displays at Bell Labs auditoriums.

Even before that, people thought about televised sports.  The cover of Radio News in June 1927 showed a video-projected boxing match. A publication called All About Television showed a football game on a video screen the same year. And, even five years earlier (more than three years before anyone achieved a recognizable video image of a 1922_july_science-invention-baseball-cover1human face), the cover of the July 1922 issue of Science and Invention showed fans watching a baseball telecast in color.

So, was 1922 the dawn of sports video?  In a word, no.

The first sports telecast might not have occurred until 1931, and the first recognizable video images of any sort until 1925, but that doesn’t mean people weren’t already thinking about sports video.

Perhaps the very first image of sports video was published by George du Maurier in 1878, 22 years before the word television was coined. The picture shows not only sports (tennis) appearing on TV, but the TV is also a widescreen, flat-panel, wall-mount set (with what seems to be HDTV resolution), and it’s being used in two-way communication halfway around the world.

Sports Video in 1878

Sports Video in 1878

The image, of what was called “Edison’s Telephonoscope” has appeared in countless publications and sites as an amazing prediction of the future of television. Was it? Alas, no.

Edison's Anti-Gravitation Under-Clothing

Edison's Anti-Gravitation Under-Clothing

It was a joke that appeared in a humor publication, Punch. The artist called it “Edison’s Telephonoscope,” but he also drew “Edison’s Anti-Gravitation Under-Clothing,” depicting art lovers flying through a gallery.

Curiously, Edison did create a “telephonoscope,” but it was a hearing aid, which he said allowed him to hear “a cow chew a quarter of a mile off.”

Ah, well.


Tags: All About Television, Bell Labs, Edison, George du Maurier, history, Olympics, Punch, Radio News, Schubin, Science and Invention, Sports, telephonoscope,