Guillermo González Camarena

    Science and technology

    Guillermo González Camarena was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1917. As a little boy he loved to make toys that move with electricity, which he created in his work space: a lab in his home basement. At age 9 he invented a seismic alarm, which made a sound when the earth began to tremble and lights went on and off. At age 12 he had already built his first amateur transmitter. Therefore it was only natural that he went on to study electronics at the Instituto Nacional Politécnico. Merely 17, when kids his age were interested only in girls, he had already constructed his own TV using radio spare parts. As a consequence of his experiments with television, many of his friends and relatives thought he was a little crazy, for them his inventions were something of science fiction; besides, he used to build his equipment with junk found in scrap yards which increased the feeling that he was some sort of vagabond.

    It is ironic that González Camarena was the one to bring color to television, his physical appearance ties him irremediably to cinematography: in some pictures his resemblance to Orson Wells in his role as Citizen Cane (with a fine mustache) is remarkable.

    Besides, being quite versatile, he was an amateur astronomer (he built his own telescope), very well versed in his country’s history, and surprise, a great lover of folklore. This led him to write songs, even a famous one called Rio Colorado, whose success allowed him to live well from its royalties and thus continue to develop his inventions (it is fun to conjecture that perhaps color TV would not have been created in Mexico if Gonzalez Camarena had not been such a good song writer). He passed away while working. On April 18, 1965, when he was returning from inspecting the Channel 5 repeater in Las Lajas hill, Veracruz, to extend the signal for the television network generated in Mexico City towards the eastern region of his country, he had an automobile accident. Both the news about his death as well as his funeral and honors vested on him were televised (in full color); on the day of his death, in a demonstration of respect, all television transmissions were stopped.

    But black and white, although it has some charm, can never compare to full color. Color television for the first time made what was seen on the screen barely different from what was seen outside the window. And this technological advancement we owe to González Camarena.

    Inventor of color TV

    He created it in 1940 and was called the Fields Three-color Sequential System, making Mexico the first country in the world to enjoy color television. González Camarena was only 23 years old and he received the patent for his system with the number 40235. Nevertheless, this system was based on the period’s black and white and there was no international standard, therefore, the price of the TV sets was inaccessible for many. Aware that television had to be enjoyed by the public in general, in 1963 he created his Simplified Bicolor System, which as its name indicated, was simpler and more accessible. González Camarena had many other inventions related to television and radio. For example, using meteorological balloons he sent his radio equipment into the stratosphere to study from above how far his images travelled. González Camarena even entered the field of medicine: his color TV was used as a teaching tool.

    LEGACY

    After his sudden demise, Mexico had to decide which color system to use for future television transmission. As if it were a color Olympic competition, since several countries had developed their own color systems (although all were based on his principles); the French SECAM, the North American NTSC, the European PAL, and, of course, González Camarena’s Bicolor System.

    Finally, although it took them some time to reach an agreement, Mexico opted for implementation of the NTSC which to this date is used in America and parts of Asia. Despite the fact that González Camarena had been the first to paint our TV screens with color, it was believed that there were few possibilities for his legacy to be continued. If it had not been so, perhaps today in many places of the world the Mexican color system would still be in use – something that without doubt would have pleased his creator, whose patriotism was well known (as was his rejection of a significant financing for his research, merely because it came from the United States).

    As just recognition for one of the inventions of greater repercussion worldwide which at the end was not implemented, it is recorded in history that González Camarena color was used for outer space. During the Voyager 1 mission in 1979, to photograph the planet Jupiter, NASA used the Bicolor System, which was simpler in terms of electronics than the NTSC for a mission at such long distance. The first Jupiter colors we then owe to González Camarena; a Jupiter he was never able to see through the telescope he invented in his home’s basement.

    CURIOSITIES

    The first color transmission through Channel 5, in 1963, was with the series Children’s Paradise, a children’s program, because González Camarena advocated for afternoon’s programming should be devoted mainly to children. That is why, and as the only payment for his services, he requested the creation of Channel 5, specifically for children. The official name of the channel is XHGC (the last letters correspond to González Camarena).

    Despite its present reputation as a “silly box”, González Camarena saw television as an efficient teaching tool to teach reading and writing and educate people. He projected what later would be known as the Tele High school Education System.