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Farnsworth didn’t want to relinquish that control. Both RCA and General Electric offered him a chance to work on television in their laboratories. He turned them both down. He wanted to go it alone. This was the practical consequence of his conviction that television was his , and it was, in retrospect, a grievous error. It meant that Farnsworth was forced to work in a state of chronic insecurity. He never had enough money. He feuded constantly with his major investor, a man named Jesse McCargar, who didn’t have the resources to play the television game. At the time of what should have been one of Farnsworth’s greatest triumphs–the granting of his principal –McCargar showed up at the lab complaining about costs, and made Farnsworth fire his three star engineers. When, in 1928, the Green Street building burned down, a panicked Farnsworth didn’t know whether or not his laboratory was insured. It was, as it happened, but a second laboratory, in Maine, wasn’t, and when it burned down, years later, he lost everything. Twice, he testified before Congress. The first time, he rambled off on a tangent about transmission bandwidth which left people scratching their heads. The second time, he passed up a perfect opportunity to register his complaints about RCA, and launched, instead, into a sentimental account of his humble origins. He simply did not understand how to play politics, just as he did not understand how to raise money or run a business or organize his life. All he really knew how to do was invent, which was something that, as a solo operator, he too seldom had time for.
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Brendan Borrell is a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. He writes for Bloomberg Businessweek , Nature , Outside , Scientific American , and many other publications, and is the co-author (with ecologist Manuel Molles) of the textbook Environment: Science, Issues, Solutions . He traveled to Brazil with the support of the Mongabay Special Reporting Initiative. Follow him on Twitter @bborrell .