In 1926, when Philo T. Farnsworth asked Elma Pem Gardner “can you be ready to be married in three days?” they were about to embark on a journey of romance and discovery on the frontier of invention.
About a year earlier, Elma, called Pem, asked her best friend Agnes Farnsworth to introduce her to Agnes’ brother Philo. Pem was still in high school but Phil, who had dropped the “o” in his name by now, was a year older and a college man. She was attracted by his piercing blue eyes and as the saying goes, they made beautiful music together…Phil played violin and Pem played piano. He wooed her on long horseback rides and told her his dreams.
On February 25th 1926, Pem’s 18th birthday, Phil marked the occasion by proposing marriage. Along with a diamond pear shaped ring, Phil gave Pem the sheet music for their favorite song, “Always” with a note that said “Irving Berlin could say it so much better than me,”
Within four months of the proposal, the 19 year old fledgling inventor promoted an investment of $6,000 from George Everson in Salt Lake City. Phil and Pem were married and set off for Los Angeles to begin the lab experiments that would lead to the invention of television.
Pem always believed in Phil and that his work would change the world… but she began to have doubts about the marriage when she was left alone on her wedding. After many hours of anxiety, Phil finally returned near dawn. Seeing her mix of concern and anger he immediately said “Pemmie, I have to tell youthere is another woman in my life.” Before she could faint from shock he added “…and her name is Television. The way I see it, my work is going to be taking up most of my time. The only way we will have as much time together as I would like is for you to work with me. Together, we’ll be working right on the leading edge of discovery”.
Philo the trained Pem to work with him in the lab. She did the technical drawing and typed up the day’s progress in a journal of the daily experiments. The journal would be the crucial element in proving his “priority of invention” of television.
She later reflected, “The idea that germinated in his brain for electronic television must have been a gift from God, a partnership between divine inspiration and temporal genius. From that single seed of inspiration he peeled away many of the mysteries of the physical universe and commanded the forces of nature to do his bidding.”
In 1928, she would become the first woman ever photographed on electronic television, 75 years late, she received an ovation at the Emmy Awards in 2002. She lived to the ripe old age of 98 and spent the last 40 years of her life trying to regain the reputation that was rightly Philo’s.
On September 7, 1927 Philo and Pem Farnsworth became the mother and father of Television.