Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Louis Le Prince 125 Years -- September 16, 2015

125 years ago today, on 16-September-1890, Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince, a pioneer in the development of motion pictures, was seen boarding a Paris-Dijon express train in Dijon.  He was not on the train when it arrived in Paris and was never seen again. 

He was born in France in 1841.  He moved to Britain in 1866 and to the United States in 1881.  He took a US patent for a camera with 16 lenses that could capture motion, but it did it poorly because every lens captured a different angle. 

He returned to Britain in 1887 and patented a single lens camera and projector. 

On 14-October-1888, Le Prince shot a scene in the garden of his house at Roundhay.  This is generally regarded as the earliest surviving motion picture. 

Later he shot a scene on Leeds Bridge.  Le Prince projected his movies on a screen in Leeds, making the first exhibition of moving pictures. 

In 1890, he travelled to France to visit his family.  After that, he was going to patent his latest devices in the UK, then travel to the US to exhibit them.  After visiting his brother in Dijon, Le Prince disappeared from an express train to Paris. 

Many people assumed that he committed suicide, but his business was in good financial shape and his family life was happy.  Some thought he might have fallen victim to robbers.  In either case, how did his body and luggage disappear so completely?  His wife suggested that Edison, who was trying to claim the invention of the motion picture, might have had Le Prince killed.  To me, that does not seem likely. 

In 2003, a person searching in Paris police archives found a photo of an 1890 drowning victim who resembled Le Prince. 

The illustrations are from an article in the July, 1931 Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, "Career of L. A. A. Le Prince" by E Kilburn Scott. 

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