Science and Invention - Who invented the movies?

Who invented the movies? Few of the thirteen million patrons who daily attend America's thirty thousand moving picture theaters realize how long and imposing is the gallery of cinema inventors. Many men of different nationalities have shared in the mechanical development of this most popular form of dramatics.

It was Lucretius, a Roman physicist, born about 96 B. C., who first recorded the scientific principle of moving pictures, or, rather, of pictures that appear to move. Motion in pictures is an illusion. You have seen a boy whirl a stone at the end of a string, and you recall that you saw a continuous circle. The eye retains the impression of an object approximately one-sixteenth of a second after the object passes on or disappears.

A Picture At White Heat

Courtesy Metro

The director and his battery of cameras in action during the making
of a big scene in the screen version of Ibanez's "The Four Horsemen
of the Apocalypse"

When the boy swings the stone, the vision of the beholder retains the reflection of the image a fraction of a second after each successive degree of revolution. Vision, in other words, persists.

The picture of one position blends into the next. When a strip of film is run through a camera, and is thrown on a screen by means of light, you get the effect of uninterrupted action. Look at the ribbon-like film after it has been developed and printed, and you will observe a series of images.

Only by following carefully from one to the other can a change in pose be observed. A "moving picture" is actually a series of "still" photographs of changing poses, magnified approximately 35,000 times by a projection lantern.

The principle of persistence of vision was applied to the blending of successive positions of a moving object about a century ago, in a crude experiment called a " Thaumatrope."

A forward step in moving picture invention was Plateau's Phenakistoscope. Quite a group of foreign inventors were engaged at this time on similar efforts. The Phenakistoscope utilized the principle of the intermittent shutter used today.

The " Wheel of Life," invented in 1834, is still turned out by toy makers for the amusement of boys and girls. This was the first animated-picture machine that had a popular sale. Many others followed, some of them of serious intent.

The inventor of the Kinematoscope was a Philadelphian, Dr. Coleman Sellers. His application for patents made it clear that each image should be stationary for the moment it was in view.

It was vital to the success of the invention that the reflection of one picture should be timed to remain on the retina of the eye until the next one came into view. Dr. Sellers was also the first to use the plate bath of glycerine, predecessor of the now familiar dry-plate process.

A red letter date in the evolution of motion-analysis by photography was the year 1872. To prove whether or not a running horse had all four feet off the ground at one time, an English surveyor, Edward Muybridge, made a series of pictures of a California race horse. First he lined up twenty-four cameras a few inches apart.

Strings '-'were stretched from the camera shutters across the track. When the horse came by, his laoofs caught the strings, and exposed the plates by releasing the shutters. The experiment determined that at periodical moments the horse was entirely clear of the ground. A few years later Muybridge startled the world by photographing the beating of a dog's heart.

The invention of the roll film was a development as necessary to the future of the industry as the invention of the needle-point eye was to Elias Howe's sewing machine.

About thirty years ago an Englishman, W. Friese-Greene, demonstrated its use in a picture twenty feet long, showing the traffic at Hyde Park Corner, London. You will smile at the idea of a moving picture that consumed a third of a minute in the "running." But, said Mr. Friese-Greene, (the cable brings news of his death as I write), "It was a triumph and a sensation, I assure you."

The flexible film used in a motion picture camera of standard type is the same size as the one introduced by Edison thirty years ago. The roll is one and three-eighths of an inch wide; a thousand feet make up a "reel."

The film is gauged by perforations on the sides to catch the sprockets that guide the strip through the camera and projection machine. It takes thirteen or fourteen minutes to run off a reel.

Thomas Edison, inventor of the celluloid film, first exhibited his Kinetoscope in 1893. Edison, the American, Lumiere, the Frenchman, Paul, the Englishman, all had a part in furnishing amusement to a world-audience of picture patrons.

Source: THE MENTOR, Volume 9, Number 6, July 1, 1921, Pages 5-7

Return to Top of Page