In 1921, a 14-year-old boy working in a potato field in Idaho had a vision of sending pictures in waves over the air, like sound waves for radio. His epiphany inspired him to invent the first electronic television, a feat that most engineers of the time thought was impossible.

“Philo Farnsworth was a terribly optimistic, creative man who believed he could accomplish anything,” says producer David Dugan. “Farnsworth’s genius burned so bright that by age thirty, he had nearly spent himself. When the trajectory of his ambition collided with the plans of a corporation with deep pockets, the result for the lone inventor was tragic.”

In 1924, Farnsworth’s father died; to support the family, Philo took a job delivering radios for a furniture store in Salt Lake City. Impatient to realize his plans for electronic television, within a year he had convinced two California businessmen, George Everson and Les Gorrell, to invest their life savings–a total of $6,000–so he could build a prototype. Soon after, Phil set up a lab in Los Angeles and started work on a camera tube that could turn an image into a stream of electrons, and a television tube that could turn the same stream of electrons into a picture.