Television History - The First 75 Years
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Mr. Manuel A. Martinez, who lives in Puerto Rico, contacted me in early November 2003, to offer access to his research into the life of Ulises Armand Sanabria.

In 1989 he wrote and published a Spanish language book titled:  "Chicago: Historia de Nuestra Comunidad Puertorriqueña"  ---   [Translation:   "The History of Puerto Ricans in Chicago"].  Ulises A. Sanabria's father and grandfather were Puerto Rican.

In 1966, three years before his death in 1969, the 60-year old U. A. Sanabria wrote a brief autobiography about his life's accomplishments. 

Mr. Martinez has been gracious to allow that document, and other rare photographs to be published here.


American Television Institute - Chicago  (136K bytes) (136K)  Sanabria Lecture-p54  (148K bytes) (148K)  U.A. Sanabria - De Forest  (128K bytes) (128K)

Sanabria Scanning Disc - De Forest  (156K bytes) (156K)  American Television Inst - Broadcast  (130K bytes) (130K)  ATI CRT Production - Grave site  (162K bytes) (162K)

1928 UA Sanabria with TV  (140K bytes) (140K) - A young Sanabria with mechanical television

Sanabria ATI Contract 1935  (165K bytes) (165K) - Aug 14th, 1935 American Television Institute Contract
Signed in ink by U.A. Sanabria (customer portion is carbon paper). 
[My thanks to Doug Peel for this document]


Courtesy Manuel A. Martinez and the family of U.A. Sanabria
© 1989 Manuel A. Martinez - All rights reserved -
May not be republished without written permission

Full Name: Ulises Armand Sanabria

Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois

Birth Date: September 5, 1906

Present Residence: 1011 Manor Drive, Wilmette, Illinois

Mother: LILLIAN  BUISSERET, American
Paternal Grandparents: Puerto Rican

Maternal Grandparents: English, Irish and Belgian

  Grammar School: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Oak Park
  High School : Oak Park - River Forest Township High School.


Hired by Hearst Newspapers to direct project to create television in six months during last year of high school because television inventions appealed to the publisher's technical advisers.

Self-educated in the field of television, radio and electronics - 1925 - 1966. 

Supervised developmental projects in television covering research cost of approximately $1,000,000 between 1926 and 1935. 

Founded American Television Institute in 1935, combination home study and residence school, and wrote course of training for it.


1938 - Founded four year resident training school, division of American Television Institute, and employed Dr. Lee DeForest, inventor of electronic discharge amplifier, to become director of many activities.

1939 - Supplied leading American college with equipment and educational treatise on television, both mechanical and cathode ray. Included are the United States Military Academy at West Point, Duke, Louisiana State, Gonzaga and DePaul.

1939 - Submitted designs for the airborne television torpedo, sometimes called the guided drone, to the Armed Services.

1940 - Appointed to Panel #2 regarding patents, on NTSC (National Television Systems Committee).

1941 - Expanded television schools to Detroit and Los Angeles, and continued serving on National Television Systems Committee.  Instituted three shift training program for technicians on December 8, 1941 to aid World War Two military requirements.

March 1942 - Enrolled 1,000 men from Sixth Service Command, United States Army, Signal Corps, for pre-radar training in consideration of $1.00 for a three month, 48 hour per week, lecture and laboratory course.

July 13,1942 - Awarded first contract for radar training by United States Army, Signal Corps.  Active enroll­ment 1,200.

September 1942 - Hired by O.S.S. to move the Postal Telegraph code operators into the Armed Services and develop signaling aids for parachutists dropped in France, who communicated by radio to officers in England.

Received contract from Bureau of Ships to develop "See-in-the-Dark" iconoscope.

July 1943 - Commenced production of cathode ray oscillograph tubes and radar tubes for Signal Corps. Pro­duced 1,000 per day of all kinds until July, 1944.

1944 to V-J Day 1945 - Modified communication equipment and packaged all types of equipment for Pacific area warfare.

1946 - Expanded post-war school to have active enrollment, in three buildings in Chicago, of 6,000 students and granting a degree of Bachelor Of Science in television; favorably accepted in industry and military services. Supervised all important functions of the expansion and became appointed to the Special Committee on Veteran's Education by General Grey.

Received degree of Bachelor of Science, followed by Honorary degree of Doctor of Television by the Institute.

Awarded Certificate Of Merit for bringing credit to the State Of Illinois, for my pioneering efforts in television and National Defense, by Governor Stratton.

Elected Chairman of Central Schools Association and Accrediting Body for trade schools in the Midwest.
 Became registered Professional Engineer in the State of Illinois.

During the course of my development of television since 1926, I acquired a working knowledge of tools for glass working, lens grinding, accurate machine work, electrical generators, including the design of automatic machinery for glass working, also became an expert trouble-shooter in all types of electronic equipment.

Some other details of my work are covered by the following recitation of facts.

First to produce television using interlaced scanning on January 26, 1926 - financed by Illinois Publishing & Printing Company. Demonstrated successful television to 200,000 people attending Chicago Radio Show from October 10th through 17th, 1926 at Chicago Radio World's Fair, Chicago Coliseum.

Basic Developments: Accurate mechanical scanning, large size photo-electric cells of the potassium hydride type, long column neon light valves, wide range DC amplifiers, necessary engineering accomplishments for television, mechanical filtering for minimal torque vibration of synchronous drive motors, filtered arc lights for elimination of commutator ripple in picture, series modulation of transmitting oscillator; invention of multi-vibrator and regenerative retouching; invention of wobulator retouching; invention of systems of revenue collecting television and a ghost image eliminating system.

Was builder and engineer of first television station in Chicago on June 12,1928 at WCFL, Navy Pier; August 1928 - WIBO, Des Plaines; WMAQ, Chicago - October 1928; W9XAO, Chicago - 1929.

Supervised the construction of 24 experimental stations using the Sanabria system; the corporation was Western Television Corporation which acquired Echophone Corporation, Waukegan, Illinois, which later became Halicrafters Corporation.

Founded Sanabria Television Corporation in January, 1931 and produced first 10' television picture for public viewing. Was granted patent on interlaced scanning in May, 1931. Applied for patent on definition multiplier, frequency inter-position, regenerative retouching, use of degeneration for optical advantage, multi-vibrator retouching, intermittent scanning, rhythmic and un-rhythmic scanning, the helium carbon dioxide arc, long line negative resistance frequency equalization, multiplying iconoscope, cathode ray tube screening systems, low leakage stems for cathode ray tubes, shock resistant design for radar tubes, getter using zircon filaments, lineless television systems, ionizing systems for human comfort, television telephone designs and systems, television cartridge chassis design, many television cabinet designs, endless tape recording system for stereo.

Worked on merchandising methods and advertising full page newspaper copy every day for twelve years. Supervised educational sales training of 100 registrars and equal number of retail salesmen, plus daily supervision. Also supervised 1,100 employees.

Developed 10 Channel wire television system, showed television on large screen to approximately 5,000,000 visitors in United States and Canada from 1931 through 1934 on 10' screen and 30' screen 10 Channel unit.  Exhibitions took place in al principal theaters, department stores and Madison Square Garden New York, the Coliseum, Chicago, and the Maple Leaf Stadium and Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto.



First to do the following:

Transmit sight and sound on the same wave band in 1928.

First to receive television pictures in an airplane while in flight, and in a moving automobile.

First to offer television receivers for sale and to produce regular television programs in 1929-1930.

First to produce a television company which supported itself entirely from television earnings. Produced first stereophonic radio receiver in 1932, sold at Chicago Boston Store.

Exhibited large screen television and television telephones on the Paramount and Loew's theater circuit, and at the following department stores:

Macy's, New York
Abraham & Strauss, Brooklyn
Bamberger's, Newark, N.J.
Hoschild-Kohn & Co., Baltimore
Litt Bros., Philadelphia
Spear & Company, Pittsburgh
Edwards & Sons, Schenectady
Sears Roebuck, Rochester
Pizitz, Birmingham, Alabama
May Company, Cleveland
O'Neil & Co., Akron, Ohio
R.H. Block, Indianapolis
Sears Roebuck, Chicago
Marshall Field Co., Chicago
Boston Store, Milwaukee
Golden Rule, St. Paul
Stix, Baer & Fuller, St. Louis
Crowley-Milner, Detroit
People's Outfitting Co., Detroit
May Company, Los Angeles
Emporium, San Francisco
Meyer & Frank, Portland, Oregon
Brandeis & Co., Omaha
Gimbel's Milwaukee

In addition, exhibited at Eaton's Stores in Canada, the Garrick Theater in Chicago and the Century of Progress Exposition.

Also exhibited in Midland and Hamilton, Ontario; Medicine Hat, Alberta; Vancouver, British Columbia; Seattle, Washington; Des Moines, Iowa; Holdridge and Lincoln, Nebraska; Wichita, Kansas; Nashville, Tennessee;

Reading and Scranton, Pennsylvania; Providence, Rhode Island; Boston, Massachusetts; Cincinnati, Ohio.

The development of my helium carbon dioxide arc for the television receiver started with low pressure light columns, using a hot cathode and a shielded anode with the shield having a copper tunnel in which the discharge took place.

After many trials we learned to conserve all of the discharge and work in a range of pressures which made the covering of the anode or the cathode with a sheath unnecessary.  A voltage drop of 65 volts across the cathode and anode went lower with a rise in current measuring 2-1/2 ohms negative resistance.  This made it possible to terminate a twisted pair of wires so that the positive resistance of the wire matched the negative resistance of the lamp.  Low loss at high frequency by the use of matching lamps and resistance made it possible to transmit over several miles of a twisted pair of wires with as good results as at the output of the transmitter.  We were, therefore, enabled to design a 10 channel mechanical system using only 15 lenses in a small disc which resolved a 10 spot lamp on a translucent screen.  This gave a total of 150 lines which had a resolution of 300 lines of present day television.

The system was ideal for wired television.  We only needed a disc, a synchronous motor and a lamp in the home. A 12 wire cable was used and no amplifying tubes were necessary in the home.  The synchronous motor was used to drive a recording hour meter so that the number of hours of television could be paid for like any other utility service. This system was very enchanting and was quite ready for commercialization in 1934.  It permitted the projection of 30' square pictures.

During tests, the screens were used out-of-doors and made of sand blasted celluloid reinforced by vertical piano wires.  The screen acted like a sail on a boat, so it had to be used with care.

During the year 1931, the stock of the Sanabria Television Corporation was qualified for trading on the New York Produce Exchange.  During that time I learned about practices in merchandising of stock, became thoroughly acquainted with tipster sheets, trading specialists, rigging the market, sucker lists, and so much more that I forced the Attorney General of New York to remove the stock from the market and never again indulged in a public stock corporation.

By 1932, I had received a grant of the interlaced scanning patent, but had many patent applications pending on mechanical and cathode ray methods.  I was invited by a Dr. William I. Sirovich, chairman of the Patents Committee, of the House of Representatives, to head up a patenting pool committee of many financial leaders, whereby my work was to be declared by the President of The United States as worthy of a special patent examiner who would go over the head of the Commissioner Of Patents in order to expedite action.  At that time there was a two year interference law, rather than one year, which permitted much trading with an inventor before his patent was issued.  A "rubber stamp" system of patent issuing had been devised which would have made it possible for the committee under my direction to rig a patent situation to dominate the industry.

I had much difficulty in withdrawing from participation in that situation because the desire to use our public stock position, combined with the ability to rig patents, appealed to the mature and corrupt interests as an "offering from Heaven".  It had one flaw, however, and that was that the Sirovich committee was counting on me to steal from other inventors and they failed to appreciate that I was a genuine inventor and could not be made to purloin the work of other pioneers in television.  However, I moved in very high level circles in politics and finance for a few months and became thoroughly disillusioned with the patent system.  In fact, I got to looking at it as a section of our government which was as badly slanted as a ticket fixing ring in traffic court.  The penalty for withdrawing was to abandon my patent applications.

There had been developed a hardy crew of television scientific men, each one of whom is successful in the pre­sent industry.  We decided that we would disperse to various laboratories and give up the hope of commercial success through patents.  Two went to RCA, one to Philco and four of us to the formation of American Television Institute, a school for the preparation of future television manpower so that the industry which had to be born at some suitable scale, would have the men available to do the work when the time came.

Through our knowledge of the malpractice in patents, we were able to insure that there was no patent control of television transmission, a vital thing at one time for freedom of telecasting.  Our testimony during 1940 and our work on the National Television Systems Committee panels resulted in the division of the NBC, and to the breaking up of NBC into ABC and NBC.  We insured that only a few stations could belong to any one network. By 1941 we had complete facility, camera links and 2,000 men ready for telecasting employment.  At this point we ran into an absurd trouble with the Federal Trade Commission, who desired us to cease and desist from alleging that there was a future in television.  We vigorously fought this for eight years, covering the difference between 'what made a technician and an engineer', the source of authority for a degree granting institution, and uncovered the fact that in our United States we had no acceptable definition for an engineer and no uniformity of college practice.   By 1948 the Federal Trade Commission became so embarrassed with the suit that they dismissed it entirely and dismissed the lawyer who started it from employment with the Federal Trade Commission.

Retracing our steps to the World War Two years, American Television, of which I was the principal stockholder and president, had a national correspondence school; a four year residence school in Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles, and we were setting up one in New York on Pearl Harbor Day.   2,000 of our students were recruited by the armed services in different parts of the country.  We mobilized our best instructors and equipment from all of our schools and concentrated our effort in Chicago. The Signal Corps tested the students of the Chicago division of RCA Institutes and our own school and selected ours for the first contract for radar training.  Management of RCA was so vexed with the showing of RCA Institutes, which had formerly been the Marconi Institutes, that they closed their Chicago school and never returned.

Our school gradually became the largest private school in the country, having a continual enrollment of 6,000 men in a four year training, in which we granted the first Bachelor Of Science degrees in television.  The men are in all corners of the industry.  Those of you who read this will find graduates of American Television employed by your own company.

At this time, 1947, the whole question of profit versus non-profit in the field of education began to rear its head.   The fact that we were able to buy and remodel large buildings into first class school facilities, pay taxes and make a sizeable margin out of tuitions, which the non-profit colleges were claiming were in adequate was becoming an embarrassing subject to conventional higher educators who were not required to pay taxes of any kind, nor to buy any new equipment, nor to prepare new curriculums.

I took the position that if the profit motive, under our American system, could be depended upon for the best automobiles, appliances and products, it could also be depended upon to produce the best graduates in the field of new technology.  I contended, in session before the Veteran's Administration, that the role of the profit school in pioneering industry is to induce scientific leaders, by payment of sufficient money, to leave industry in favor of the financial opportunity in profit schools.  A divided camp resulted.  I insisted that a profit school be entitled to collect as much tuition as a non-tax paying institution and billed the government accordingly.

The Veteran's Administration, however, was insisting that we could not use the college method of billing by the semester but rather by the days of attendance only.  Since I insisted on the semester billing, the Veteran's Administration retaliated by having a Grand Jury vote a True Bill against me for overcharging the government.  This True Bill was never reduced to an indictment because I learned about it and appealed to the Attorney General to send the FBI, to investigate and hold the indictment until the investigation was complete.  The FBI investigation cleared me and the indictment was never returned.

Stepping back into the War Years again, the Signal Corps appealed to us to try and make cathode ray tubes which we were doing in a very small way before the War.  We were rated as having a capacity of 50 per day but stepped this up to 1,000 per day of all sizes.  The attempted indictment by the Veteran's Administration formed the excuse necessary for an ambitious segment of my enterprise to form the National Video Corporation.

The appeal to leave and work for National Video was based on the fact that American Television was going to be destroyed and "poor old boss, Sanabria" would need a job which his faithful followers would have ready for him. Since these people who formed National Video had all worked for me for more than fifteen years and gone through much of the grand experience of television pioneering,  I had come to expect complete loyalty from a group which had identified itself as American Television.  They were earning salaries of from $20,000 to $60,000 annually and I was thoroughly depressed by their exodus.

The Westinghouse Company gave American Television a $1,000,000 letter-of-intent to purchase cathode ray tubes and the Tung-Sol Company was to get one-half of our production and Westinghouse the other half.

The manufacture of picture tubes held for American Television a completely new glass technique because it involved what is commonly called "soft glass" as opposed to "hard glass" which we had used for radar and cathode ray tubes during World War Two.  We had become adept at handling all of the high temperature glasses produced by the Corning Glass Works where the working temperatures produced incandescence.  The substitution of thermocouple pyrometers at low temperature and Dumet wire seals was a backward step because the higher bake-out temperature of the hard glass previously resulted in a better vacuum.

We started to produce 10" round picture tubes in December, 1948 and by May, 1949 we were manufacturing 500 per day.  Tube sizes increased very rapidly and by December, 1949 we were making our first rectangular 16" tubes.   In the meantime, our school flourished and we started the production of our first television sets.

During the year 1950 our profits climbed to $2,000,000 annually, so I started three new projects.  The first was a centrifugal casting company; the second was a transpondence course in which the student received a tape recorder and a film projector and corresponded by talking to the instructor (the instrument was called a transponder).  High speed re-recording was used for what we believed to be the first time in such an enterprise.  The third was to re-enter military research and development and manufacture image storage tubes, hydrogen thyratrons and test gear for same.

Everything expanded all at once and no provision had been made for proper banking procedures, so that all the enterprises became co-mingled financially.  This resulted in prohibitive taxes and military refunds, so that in our most successful years, through 1955, we ended with overburdening liabilities to the Excise Tax Division of the Internal Revenue Service and the Fiscal Divisions of the Armed Services, as a result of converting the basis of the Excise Tax to the retail, rather than the factory price.

We had substantial outlets for our television sets in our self-owned stores in Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Evansville, St. Louis, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Washington and Los Angeles.  We also had independent dealers in Grand Rapids, Philadelphia, South Bend, Toledo, Wichita, Houston, Jacksonville, Milwaukee, and many other place I cannot quickly recall.  We exported to Canada.  Our rate of production was 1,000 sets weekly.

During this period I was extensively involved in the daily preparation of retail advertising.  Our budget for newspaper advertising was generally $30,000 weekly and it had to be continually new and different.  The design of the furniture or cabinets was also largely personal and I continually reviewed and approved the electronic performance and the picture tube quality.

We took much pride in the fact that we trained the manpower, built the cabinets, the picture tube and the entire television chassis - more of the whole set than most of our competitors.  We wrote and printed our own textbooks for the school, doing our own illustrating and photography, and trained personnel for every profession in television, including the acting.  During these years I was also active in inventing.

Going back to 1926, I believed that light could directly affect electrons in motion, but soon realized that I was observing the photo-electric effect.  My staff and I developed long column gas discharge lamps using both cold and hot cathodes and many types of alkali metal cells.  I became familiar with glass blowing tools, materials and techniques.  Optical systems, illuminating sources and flicker photometry became daily practice.  The use of lenses and mirrors and precision mechanical devices of all types was a necessity which led to the world's finest amplifiers for that time, covering from 0 to 100 kilocycles with minimal phase distortion.  Constant exploration of the human eye system for a clue to make television easier was never-ending.  I developed methods and means for producing, color television, light amplifiers, tape recorders and reproducers, transmitter for sound and television, stereophonic systems and three dimensional television systems.  I conducted lecture classes in these foregoing subjects.

I had interesting periods of side hobbies and engineering diversions such as, microscopic observation of the growth of bacteria, a backbone thermometer for recording the temperature junction where nerves enter the spinal column, the effect of thyroid extract on the common cold, use of diathermy for many medical benefits, use of a reversing mirror to aid prospective actors and the novel use of cues by authors of television productions to speed rehearsals, home heating plants combining electrical generation so as to more fully utilize fuel, vacuum glass caskets for the dehydrating of bodies for extended preservation, power yachting, the composition of music with a few numbers widely accepted.

I escorted the captured submarine U505, with my yacht "Airbanas", from Montreal to Chicago, which is now at the Museum of Science and Industry.

Some other hobbies are the design of self-taxpaying money and money systems, the creation of a consumer's stock exchange, the utilization of ceiling merchandising rights in super-grocery stores, the uniform replacement and utilization of television sets so that they can be traded annually and maintained at different economy levels, the invention and promotion of lineless television with veils of critical mesh, soil less charcoal, electrolytic lipstick.

Among recent inventions not reduced to patent, are a light image amplifier, a picture on the wall type of large screen television not using a cathode ray tube and a compatible system of transmitting and receiving two pro­grams simultaneously on each television station while not interfering with present day television receivers, method of quadrupling the television information on video and audio tape.                                            

I am well acquainted with Federal Trade rules and procedures, general business custom and capable of developing and promoting most advances in the fields of electronics and optics. I prefer those projects which are a combination of profit and socially efficient end use.

© 1989 Manuel A. Martinez - All rights reserved
May not be republished without written permission

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