Farnsworth TV and Pioneer Museum brings visitors near and far

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file photo | EastIdahoNews.com

RIGBY – In the heart of Rigby, a museum pays homage to its most famous resident, Philo T. Farnsworth, inventor of the television. But the museum also celebrates local culture with a large collection of items and memories of years gone by.

The Farnsworth TV and Pioneer Museum, located at 118 W. First South in Rigby, brings visitors near and far and is definitely worth a visit.

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The more than 13,000-square foot building showcases a wide variety of antiques, from a collection of chainsaws to military memorabilia to animal skins to rooms that highlight the different communities in east Idaho.

“It shows local culture, how people lived back then,” said Cleave Reddick, the museum’s curator.

file photo | EastIdahoNews.com

Some of the items are donated, but about 80 percent are on loan from local residents. Upon entering the museum, children are offered a paper with scavenger hunt items for them to find throughout the museum.

Originally, the museum was located in the basement of the Rigby library, but in 1993 moved to its current location. The unique building was constructed sometime in the 1960s and opened as the Bond Motel. For a short time, it was a mini mall, and then it fell into disrepair. It was condemned and then the city acquired it. Reddick said the Jefferson County Historical Society leased the space and brought it back to life as the museum.

The historical society, county and city put in money to fix it up, and members of the St. Anthony Work Camp did a lot of work on the building. Now it has become a place where visitors from near and far come to revel in the past.

Visitors to the museum typically include school groups, scout groups, people from the area, and people who are visiting the area. This summer was especially busy, Reddick explained.

“About 150 groups came through during the eclipse; on Monday there were 80 groups alone,” he said.

There are even those who have walked through the museum’s doors who view the museum as a Bucket List item they must visit in their lifetime.

“There was a man from England saved just to come here. This was like his mecca,” Reddick said.

Reddick also remembers an engineer from Singapore who stopped by specifically to look at the TV-related items.

About 400 square feet of the museum is dedicated to Farnsworth and his invention. Farnsworth, who was born in Utah, spent his childhood on a farm in Rigby. At a young age he was interested in mechanical things of the time, including trains, telephones, and phonographs. He also played the violin, which is on display at the museum. For years he tinkered with motors, generators, and the like. The young inventor even won a contest by Science and Invention magazine at age 13.

He read everything he could about others’ ideas on how a television could be developed, but nothing was panning out yet. Then one day on the farm while plowing potato fields, young Farnsworth realized the rows could translate into a moving picture. His science teacher, Mr. Tolman, encouraged him in his ideas.

Eventually, back in Utah, Farnsworth caught the eye of investors for his Image Dissector, aka camera tube, that converted an image into electrical current. It took some time, but as Farnsworth matured, he developed his invention and in 1927 was showcased. The rest, as they say, is history. The Farnsworth display at the museum includes many of his awards, patents, TV tubes, and personal items.

Museum volunteer Karol Getsinger urges those in east Idaho who have never visited to come take a look at what the museum has to offer.

“It’s folksy, not fancy,” she said. “Locals need to come and see. People who have lived here their whole life come in and are surprised. These are their ancestors. People need to realize what’s here and how important it is.”

Getsinger is the daughter of Glena Smith, who was the museum’s second curator. The first curator was Marge Scott.

With a small volunteer force of around 10 people, the museum can only stay open limited hours. The museum is always looking for more volunteers to welcome visitors and give tours, and do general cleaning. In addition, Reddick said they’d love volunteers with web experience who could expand the museum’s online presence, including archiving the many photos and stories at the museum.

For more information including current hours, call the museum at 208-745-8423.

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