Herbert E. Ives

Herbert E. Ives

Herbert IvesBorn in Philadelphia on July 21, 1882 Herbert Ives was trained by his father, Frederic Ives, in optics, photography and imaging. The young Ives worked for his father as an assistant and plant foreman while still a teenager. In 1905, he earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania. In 1908 he earned his doctorate in physics from The Johns Hopkins University and wrote a dissertation on color photography. Ives held several industrial positions before joining the U.S. Army Signal Corps in 1918 as head of aerial research.

After the war Ives joined AT&T's research division.  His first major responsibility was to develop commercial telephotography, a system similar to today's fax machines. AT&T demonstrated their new telephotography system in 1924, and offered it as a commercial product in 1925. This laid the foundation for transmitting news photos over a wire service.

In January 1925, Ives proposed speeding up the AT&T facsimile system "to the point where the product would be television." By December 1925, he had devised an electromechanical system that could transmit images from one laboratory bench to the next. Collaborator Frank Gray contributed a mechanical television camera, which illuminated the subject with a rapidly moving, narrow beam of light and colleague Harry Stoller provided a system to keep the transmitter and receiver synchronized.

Ives first demonstrated this apparatus to AT&T executives on March 10th, 1926. The executives talked to one another via "video telephone". The picture was low-definition with 50 lines of resolution at 16 frames per second — but the image of a human face was recognizable, seen via a 2-inch-by-2½-inch window.

AT&T wanted to achieve long-distance television, and Ives set out to refine his system, enlisting the assistance of more than 200 engineers, scientists and technicians. On April 27th, 1927, AT&T produced the first ever video transmission. An address by Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover was beamed over 200 miles from Washington D.C. to New York City. 

Ives produced a color television system in 1929 and the following year demonstrated two-way television (or picture phone), using video telephone booths connecting the AT&T and Bell Labs headquarters buildings in New York. In 1937, it was the transmission of high-resolution television over coaxial cable. Despite these accomplishments, AT&T's interest in developing television technology waned during the 1930s with American conglomerate RCA picking up where AT&T had left off.

During World War II, he worked on night-vision devices and for his efforts received the U.S. government’s Medal of Merit, the highest award given to a civilian.

A prolific scientist, Ives published more than 200 papers and held 100 patents. Many of the papers described the photoelectric effect and the Doppler effect as it pertained to Einstein's theory of relativity. Ives was known for disagreeing with Einstein on relativity and spent much ink trying to disprove the theory.

In 1928 Ives endowed the Frederic Ives Medal through OSA to honor his father for his pioneering contributions to color photography, three-color process printing and the invention of modern photoengraving. Herbert Ives received the award in 1937. He also received the Franklin Institute’s Longstreth Medal, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Rumford Prize.

Ives retired from AT&T in 1947 and died six year later in Montclair, N.J.