Louis Le Prince is not the name that comes to mind when considering the individual who could be regarded as the “father of cinema” or the most deserving of such recognition.
You might say The Lumière Brothers, Georges Méliès, Alice Guy-Blaché, and possibly Thomas Edison, taking into account his series of patents for inventions and ideas he seemingly stole.
However, if you were to take the stage and mention Louis Le Prince, your only hope would be that the producers had stumbled upon a film history enthusiast well-versed enough to acknowledge the true answer: a French inventor who created the oldest known example of a motion picture before vanishing without a trace less than a year later.
While The Lumière Brothers are credited as the first to publicly showcase a motion picture and revolutionize the commercial cinema industry, or even Thomas Edison with his claim of “inventing” the globally accepted 35mm film stock, Louis Le Prince accomplished what could arguably be considered the most groundbreaking leap in the history of art and entertainment.
He was the first to discover the method of making pictures actually move.
Yes, you heard correctly. Moving photographs. Take a moment to ponder that. Although we cannot attribute the invention of movies as we know them to a single individual, given its evolution through a series of innovations by numerous people, each building upon the work of their predecessors, it is safe to assert that Le Prince is as close as we can get to “the inventor of motion pictures.”
Upon watching his film, one notices that the story is refreshingly simple – individuals strolling within what appears to be a circular path, with an unresolved cliffhanger ending just as it becomes unclear if the circle is ever completed.
Therefore, not much can be inferred regarding this two-second short film’s plot or character arcs. However, the true action and drama lie in the narrative that unfolds due to the film’s creation.
Recent developments have shed new light on a 118-year-old enigma surrounding the mysterious disappearance of Louis Le Prince, an inventor largely unknown today but officially credited as the pioneer who first captured motion images on film, thus laying the foundation for the modern motion picture industry.
In October 1888, Le Prince recorded a series of moving images at Leeds Bridge in Leeds, England, several years ahead of both Thomas Edison and the Lumière brothers. Prior to that, Le Prince had secured patents for both a 16-lens device and a single-lens camera, distinguishing him as a remarkable innovator in his field.
Are you prepared for this bizarre true story? Let us delve into it.
Who was Louis Le Prince?
Louis Aimá Augustin Le Prince, born on August 28, 1841, hailed from a distinguished lineage. His father, a highly respected officer of the Légion d’Honneur, had connections to renowned figures like the photography pioneer Daguerre, who imparted photography and chemistry lessons to young Louis. Continuing his education at Paris and Leipzig Universities, Le Prince pursued studies in painting and chemistry.
In 1866, Le Prince relocated from France to England following an invitation from a college friend. Three years later, he married his friend’s sister, a talented artist. Together, they established the Leeds Technical School of Art, gaining recognition for their innovative work combining photography with metal and ceramic mediums.
During their honeymoon in Paris, Le Prince developed a fascination with a magic show featuring a mesmerizing illusion involving moving transparent figures, possibly a variation of Pepper’s Ghost or a dancing skeleton projection using multiple mirrored reflections converging at a single point, performed at the Théâtre Robert-Houdin.
Subsequently, the family resided in the United States for some time, during which Le Prince managed a group of French artists. During this period, he constructed his sixteen-lens camera and conducted experiments with film stock.
Louis and Elizabeth established the Leeds Technical School of Art, focusing on applied art education.
In 1881, Le Prince ventured to the United States, where he assumed the role of manager for a group of French artists who created large panoramic paintings, often depicting famous battles. These panoramas were exhibited in major cities such as New York City, Washington, D.C., and Chicago.
During his time in the United States, Le Prince began conducting experiments related to capturing moving images. He devised a camera with sixteen lenses, which became his first patented invention.
While the camera had the ability to record motion, it did not achieve complete success due to the slight variations in perspective captured by each lens. Consequently, if the recorded images had been projected (which remains uncertain), the resulting footage would have appeared jumpy or discontinuous.
Upon his return to Leeds in May 1887, Louis Le Prince embarked on constructing a single-lens camera in the latter half of 1888. In a workshop at 160 Woodhouse Lane, Leeds, he developed an experimental camera model, which he utilized to capture his pioneering motion-picture films.
On October 14, 1888, he employed the camera for the first time, capturing what would later be recognized as the Roundhay Garden Scene and a sequence featuring his son Adolphe playing the accordion.
Additionally, Le Prince used the camera to record footage of road traffic and pedestrians crossing Leeds Bridge. The filming took place from Hicks the Ironmongers, presently the British Waterways building situated on the southeast side of the bridge, marked today by a commemorative Blue plaque.
On September 16, 1890, Louis Le Prince vanished without a trace. He had promised to reunite with friends in Paris for a return journey to England. However, he failed to arrive at the appointed time and subsequently disappeared, never to be seen again by his loved ones or acquaintances.
His last sighting occurred aboard a train departing from the Dijon platform. Despite exhaustive searches conducted by the French police and Scotland Yard, no trace of his body or belongings was ever found, leaving the case unresolved.
Enter Alexis Bedford, a chemistry and photography graduate student at the University of New York. Over the past year and a half, Bedford has delved into the history of motion pictures, often unearthing forgotten archives within the New York library.
It is within these hidden records that he recently made a significant discovery, shedding new light on the mysterious fate of Louis Le Prince.
The Truth Behind the Disappearance of Louis Le Prince
“I have always held great admiration for Louis Le Prince,” stated Bedford, emphasizing the scarcity of information surrounding Le Prince’s abrupt disappearance. According to Bedford’s account, he came across a weathered leather-bound book while researching Thomas Edison’s work on lighting methods.
Little did he know that the book was one among many notebooks in which Edison often recorded ideas and test data. “As I flipped through it,” Bedford explained, “I expected to find some interesting, previously unknown processes that Edison had experimented with in his laboratory. I never anticipated stumbling upon this!”
Within the book, he discovered a small entry, dated September 20, 1890, in Edison’s own handwriting. It read, “Eric called me today from Dijon. It has been done. Prince is no more. This is good news, but it unsettled me when he informed me. Murder is not my domain. I am an inventor, and now my inventions for moving images can progress.”
Filled with excitement and bewilderment, Bedford promptly sought out librarian curator Charlene Edmonds to share his discovery.
Edmonds had been unaware of the existence of the Edison journal, stating, “It’s not surprising considering the vast collection of historical documents in our library. Some items have been forgotten over the ages. I wouldn’t be surprised by anything anyone finds here!”
With Mrs. Edmonds’ permission, Bedford brought the journal back to New York University and entrusted it to historian Robert E. Myre. After weeks of meticulous examination to verify its authenticity, which included comparing the handwriting with known Edison articles and conducting a computed tomography scan, Myre confirmed that the journal was genuine. Edison himself unquestionably wrote the September 1890 note.
“It offers a fresh perspective on these remarkable inventors and their era,” said Bedford. “Suddenly, we view Thomas Edison in a different light, as someone who had a significant stake in dominating the emerging motion picture industry. We also witness how patent disputes influenced these scientists’ pursuits for recognition of their inventions.”
“This is truly thrilling,” echoed Myre. “With this evidence, we are essentially rewriting history.”
All great unsolved mysteries harbor their fair share of conspiracy theories. In this case, Thomas Edison plays the role of Leigh Arthur Allen. Let us explore this further.
So Did Edison Truly Murder Louis Le Prince (Or called for it?)
Merely a year after Le Prince’s ill-fated train journey, Edison arrogated to himself the patent for inventing motion pictures through his Kinetoscope invention – or, as you may recognize it, the nickel-powered peephole machine. Understandably, the Le Prince family initiated legal action by filing a lawsuit.
No stranger to patent disputes, Edison regularly engaged in legal battles to secure credit for inventions he had clearly come second to create.
In the case of Louis Le Prince, it became a clash between a powerful and established industry figure and the family of a relatively unknown inventor who never witnessed the recognition of his legacy. I’ll let you take a moment to ponder who might have emerged victorious in such a scenario.
In a surprising turn of events, the court initially ruled in favor of Edison but later reversed their decision upon appeal. However, tragedy struck the Le Prince family when Adolphe, the staunch defender of his father’s camera patent, was shot and killed just months after the court’s original ruling.
Like his father, the circumstances surrounding Adolphe’s death remain unresolved, and the perpetrator’s identity (if it wasn’t Adolphe himself) remains unknown.
I’m not making wild accusations here – I maintain a rational and level-headed approach like anyone else. However, it is worth considering that if it weren’t for Edison, it would be rather convenient that Le Prince’s primary threat to Edison’s claim of being the “inventor of motion pictures” was eliminated before the appeal case.
RIP Louis Le Prince.
Next, read about the True Story Behind the Worst Air Disaster of All Time, and then, about the Death Row All Stars, the Baseball Team Forced to Play for their Life!
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