Thomas Alva Edison
In Menlo Park, NJ
HIS LIFE AND INVENTIONS
FRANK LEWIS DYER
GENERAL COUNSEL FOR THE EDISON LABORATORY
AND ALLIED INTERESTS
THOMAS COMMERFORD MARTIN
EX-PRESIDENT OF THE AMERICAN INSTITUTE
OF ELECTRICAL ENGINEERS
Published in New York by Harper Brothers, 1929
THE preceding chapters have treated of Edison in various aspects as an inventor, some of which are familiar to the public, others of which are believed to be in the nature of a novel revelation, simply because no one had taken the trouble before to put the facts together. To those who have perhaps grown weary of seeing Edison's name in articles of a sensational character, it may sound strange to say that, after all, justice has not been done to his versatile and many-sided nature; and that the mere prosaic facts of his actual achievement outrun the wildest flights of irrelevant journalistic imagination. Edison hates nothing more than to be dubbed a genius or played up as a "wizard"; but this fate has dogged him until he has come at last to resign himself to it with a resentful indignation only to be appreciated when watching him read the latest full-page Sunday "spread" that develops a casual conversation into oracular verbosity, and gives to his shrewd surmise the cast of inspired prophecy.
In other words, Edison's real work has seldom been seriously discussed. Rather has it been taken as a point of departure into a realm of fancy and romance, where as a relief from drudgery he is sometimes quite willing to play the pipe if some one will dance to it. Indeed, the stories woven around his casual suggestions are tame and vapid alongside his own essays in fiction, probably never to be published, but which show what a real inventor can do when he cuts loose to create a new heaven and a new earth, unrestrained by any formal respect for existing conditions of servitude to three dimensions and the standard elements.
The present chapter, essentially technical in its subject-matter, is perhaps as significant as any in this biography, because it presents Edison as the Master Impresario of his age, and maybe of many following ages also. His phonographs and his motion pictures have more audiences in a week than all the theatres in America in a year. The "Nickelodeon" is the central fact in modern amusement, and Edison founded it. All that millions know of music and drama he furnishes; and the whole study of the theatrical managers thus reaching the masses is not to ascertain the limitations of the new art, but to discover its boundless possibilities. None of the exuberant versions of things Edison has not done could endure for a moment with the simple narrative of what he has really done as the world's new Purveyor of Pleasure. And yet it all depends on the toilful conquest of a subtle and intricate art. The story of the invention of the phonograph has been told. That of the evolution of motion pictures follows. It is all one piece of sober, careful analysis, and stubborn, successful attack on the problem.
The possibility of making a record of animate movement, and subsequently reproducing it, was predicted long before the actual accomplishment. This, as we have seen, was also the case with the phonograph, the telephone, and the electric light. As to the phonograph, the prediction went only so far as the RESULT; the apparent intricacy of the problem being so great that the MEANS for accomplishing the desired end were seemingly beyond the grasp of the imagination or the mastery of invention.
With the electric light and the telephone the prediction included not only the result to be accomplished, but, in a rough and general way, the mechanism itself; that is to say, long before a single sound was intelligibly transmitted it was recognized that such a thing might be done by causing a diaphragm, vibrated by original sounds, to communicate its movements to a distant diaphragm by a suitably controlled electric current. In the case of the electric light, the heating of a conductor to incandescence in a highly rarefied atmosphere was suggested as a scheme of illumination long before its actual accomplishment, and in fact before the production of a suitable generator for delivering electric current in a satisfactory and economical manner.
It is a curious fact that while the modern art of motion pictures depends essentially on the development of instantaneous photography, the suggestion of the possibility of securing a reproduction of animate motion, as well as, in a general way, of the mechanism for accomplishing the result, was made many years before the instantaneous photograph became possible. While the first motion picture was not actually produced until the summer of 1889, its real birth was almost a century earlier, when Plateau, in France, constructed an optical toy, to which the impressive name of "Phenakistoscope" was applied, for producing an illusion of motion. This toy in turn was the forerunner of the Zoetrope, or so-called "Wheel of Life," which was introduced into this country about the year 1845. These devices were essentially toys, depending for their successful operation (as is the case with motion pictures) upon a physiological phenomenon known as persistence of vision. If, for instance, a bright light is moved rapidly in front of the eye in a dark room, it appears not as an illuminated spark, but as a line of fire; a so-called shooting star, or a flash of lightning produces the same effect. This result is purely physiological, and is due to the fact that the retina of the eye may be considered as practically a sensitized plate of relatively slow speed, and an image impressed upon it remains, before being effaced, for a period of from one-tenth to one-seventh of a second, varying according to the idiosyncrasies of the individual and the intensity of the light. When, therefore, it is said that we should only believe things we actually see, we ought to remember that in almost every instance we never see things as they are.
Bearing in mind the fact that when an image is impressed on the human retina it persists for an appreciable period, varying as stated, with the individual, and depending also upon the intensity of the illumination, it will be seen that, if a number of pictures or photographs are successively presented to the eye, they will appear as a single, continuous photo- graph, provided the periods between them are short enough to prevent one of the photographs from being effaced before its successor is presented. If, for instance, a series of identical portraits were rapidly presented to the eye, a single picture would apparently be viewed, or if we presented to the eye the series of photographs of a moving object, each one representing a minute successive phase of the movement, the movements themselves would apparently again take place.
With the Zoetrope and similar toys rough drawings were used for depicting a few broadly outlined successive phases of movement, because in their day instantaneous photography was unknown, and in addition there were certain crudities of construction that seriously interfered with the illumination of the pictures, rendering it necessary to make them practically as silhouettes on a very conspicuous background. Hence it will be obvious that these toys produced merely an ILLUSION of THEORETICAL motion.
But with the knowledge of even an illusion of motion, and with the philosophy of persistence of vision fully understood, it would seem that, upon the development of instantaneous photography, the reproduction of ACTUAL motion by means of pictures would have followed, almost as a necessary consequence. Yet such was not the case, and success was ultimately accomplished by Edison only after persistent experimenting along lines that could not have been predicted, including the construction of apparatus for the purpose, which, if it had not been made, would undoubtedly be considered impossible. In fact, if it were not for Edison's peculiar mentality, that refuses to recognize anything as impossible until indubitably demonstrated to be so, the production of motion pictures would certainly have been delayed for years, if not for all time.
One of the earliest suggestions of the possibility of utilizing photography for exhibiting the illusion of actual movement was made by Ducos, who, as early as 1864, obtained a patent in France, in which he said: "My invention consists in substituting rapidly and without confusion to the eye not only of an individual, but when so desired of a whole assemblage, the enlarged images of a great number of pictures when taken instantaneously and successively at very short intervals.... The observer will believe that he sees only one image, which changes gradually by reason of the successive changes of form and position of the objects which occur from one picture to the other. Even supposing that there be a slight interval of time during which the same object was not shown, the persistence of the luminous impression upon the eye will fill this gap. There will be as it were a living representation of nature and . . . the same scene will be reproduced upon the screen with the same degree of animation.... By means of my apparatus I am enabled especially to reproduce the passing of a procession, a review of military manoeuvres, the movements of a battle, a public fete, a theatrical scene, the evolution or the dances of one or of several persons, the changing expression of countenance, or, if one desires, the grimaces of a human face; a marine view, the motion of waves, the passage of clouds in a stormy sky, particularly in a mountainous country, the eruption of a volcano," etc.
Other dreamers, contemporaries of Ducos, made similar suggestions; they recognized the scientific possibility of the problem, but they were irretrievably handicapped by the shortcomings of photography. Even when substantially instantaneous photographs were evolved at a somewhat later date they were limited to the use of wet plates, which have to be prepared by the photographer and used immediately, and were therefore quite out of the question for any practical commercial scheme. Besides this, the use of plates would have been impracticable, because the limitations of their weight and size would have prevented the taking of a large number of pictures at a high rate of speed, even if the sensitized surface had been sufficiently rapid.
Nothing ever came of Ducos' suggestions and those of the early dreamers in this essentially practical and commercial art, and their ideas have made no greater impress upon the final result than Jules Verne's Nautilus of our boyhood days has developed the modern submarine. From time to time further suggestions were made, some in patents, and others in photographic and scientific publications, all dealing with the fascinating thought of preserving and representing actual scenes and events. The first serious attempt to secure an illusion of motion by photography was made in 1878 by Eadward Muybridge as a result of a wager with the late Senator Leland Stanford, the California pioneer and horse-lover, who had asserted, contrary to the usual belief, that a trotting- horse at one point in its gait left the ground entirely. At this time wet plates of very great rapidity were known, and by arranging a series of cameras along the line of a track and causing the horse in trotting past them, by striking wires or strings attached to the shutters, to actuate the cameras at the right instant, a series of very clear instantaneous photographs was obtained. From these negatives, when developed, positive prints were made, which were later mounted on a modified form of Zoetrope and projected upon a screen.
One of these early exhibitions is described in the Scientific American of June 5, 1880: "While the separate photographs had shown the successive positions of a trotting or running horse in making a single stride, the Zoogyroscope threw upon the screen apparently the living animal. Nothing was wanting but the clatter of hoofs upon the turf, and an occasional breath of steam from the nostrils, to make the spectator believe that he had before him genuine flesh-and-blood steeds. In the views of hurdle-leaping, the simulation was still more admirable, even to the motion of the tail as the animal gathered for the jump, the raising of his head, all were there. Views of an ox trotting, a wild bull on the charge, greyhounds and deer running and birds flying in mid- air were shown, also athletes in various positions." It must not be assumed from this statement that even as late as the work of Muybridge anything like a true illusion of movement had been obtained, because such was not the case. Muybridge secured only one cycle of movement, because a separate camera had to be used for each photograph and consequently each cycle was reproduced over and over again. To have made photographs of a trotting- horse for one minute at the moderate rate of twelve per second would have required, under the Muybridge scheme, seven hundred and twenty separate cameras, whereas with the modern art only a single camera is used. A further defect with the Muybridge pictures was that since each photograph was secured when the moving object was in the centre of the plate, the reproduction showed the object always centrally on the screen with its arms or legs in violent movement, but not making any progress, and with the scenery rushing wildly across the field of view!
In the early 80's the dry plate was first introduced into general use, and from that time onward its rapidity and quality were gradually improved; so much so that after 1882 Prof. E. J. Marey, of the French Academy, who in 1874 had published a well-known treatise on "Animal Movement," was able by the use of dry plates to carry forward the experiments of Muybridge on a greatly refined scale. Marey was, however, handicapped by reason of the fact that glass plates were still used, although he was able with a single camera to obtain twelve photographs on successive plates in the space of one second. Marey, like Muybridge, photographed only one cycle of the movements of a single object, which was subsequently reproduced over and over again, and the camera was in the form of a gun, which could follow the object so that the successive pictures would be always located in the centre of the plates.
The review above given, as briefly as possible, comprises substantially the sum of the world's knowledge at the time the problem of recording and reproducing animate movement was first undertaken by Edison. The most that could be said of the condition of the art when Edison entered the field was that it had been recognized that if a series of instantaneous photographs of a moving object could be secured at an enormously high rate many times per second--they might be passed before the eye either directly or by projection upon a screen, and thereby result in a reproduction of the movements. Two very serious difficulties lay in the way of actual accomplishment, however--first, the production of a sensitive surface in such form and weight as to be capable of being successively brought into position and exposed, at the necessarily high rate; and, second, the production of a camera capable of so taking the pictures. There were numerous other workers in the field, but they added nothing to what had already been proposed. Edison himself knew nothing of Ducos, or that the suggestions had advanced beyond the single centrally located photographs of Muybridge and Marey. As a matter of public policy, the law presumes that an inventor must be familiar with all that has gone before in the field within which he is working, and if a suggestion is limited to a patent granted in New South Wales, or is described in a single publication in Brazil, an inventor in America, engaged in the same field of thought, is by legal fiction presumed to have knowledge not only of the existence of that patent or publication, but of its contents. We say this not in the way of an apology for the extent of Edison's contribution to the motion-picture art, because there can be no question that he was as much the creator of that art as he was of the phonographic art; but to show that in a practical sense the suggestion of the art itself was original with him. He himself says: "In the year 1887 the idea occurred to me that it was possible to devise an instrument which should do for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear, and that by a combination of the two, all motion and sound could be recorded and reproduced simultaneously. This idea, the germ of which came from the little toy called the Zoetrope and the work of Muybridge, Marey, and others, has now been accomplished, so that every change of facial expression can be recorded and reproduced life- size. The kinetoscope is only a small model illustrating the present stage of the progress, but with each succeeding month new possibilities are brought into view. I believe that in coming years, by my own work and that of Dickson, Muybridge, Marey, and others who will doubtless enter the field, grand opera can be given at the Metropolitan Opera House at New York without any material change from the original, and with artists and musicians long since dead."
In the earliest experiments attempts were made to secure the photographs, reduced microscopically, arranged spirally on a cylinder about the size of a phonograph record, and coated with a highly sensitized surface, the cylinder being given an intermittent movement, so as to be at rest during each exposure. Reproductions were obtained in the same way, positive prints being observed through a magnifying glass. Various forms of apparatus following this general type were made, but they were all open to the serious objection that the very rapid emulsions employed were relatively coarse-grained and prevented the securing of sharp pictures of microscopic size. On the other hand, the enlarging of the apparatus to permit larger pictures to be obtained would present too much weight to be stopped and started with the requisite rapidity. In these early experiments, however, it was recognized that, to secure proper results, a single camera should be used, so that the objects might move across its field just as they move across the field of the human eye; and the important fact was also observed that the rate at which persistence of vision took place represented the minimum speed at which the pictures should be obtained. If, for instance, five pictures per second were taken (half of the time being occupied in exposure and the other half in moving the exposed portion of the film out of the field of the lens and bringing a new portion into its place), and the same ratio is observed in exhibiting the pictures, the interval of time between successive pictures would be one-tenth of a second; and for a normal eye such an exhibition would present a substantially continuous photograph. If the angular movement of the object across the field is very slow, as, for instance, a distant vessel, the successive positions of the object are so nearly coincident that when reproduced before the eye an impression of smooth, continuous movement is secured. If, how- ever, the object is moving rapidly across the field of view, one picture will be separated from its successor to a marked extent, and the resulting impression will be jerky and unnatural. Recognizing this fact, Edison always sought for a very high speed, so as to give smooth and natural reproductions, and even with his experimental apparatus obtained upward of forty- eight pictures per second, whereas, in practice, at the present time, the accepted rate varies between twenty and thirty per second. In the efforts of the present day to economize space by using a minimum length of film, pictures are frequently taken at too slow a rate, and the reproductions are therefore often objectionable, by reason of more or less jerkiness.
During the experimental period and up to the early part of 1889, the kodak film was being slowly developed by the Eastman Kodak Company. Edison perceived in this product the solution of the problem on which he had been working, because the film presented a very light body of tough material on which relatively large photographs could be taken at rapid intervals. The surface, however, was not at first sufficiently sensitive to admit of sharply defined pictures being secured at the necessarily high rates. It seemed apparent, therefore, that in order to obtain the desired speed there would have to be sacrificed that fineness of emulsion necessary for the securing of sharp pictures. But as was subsequently seen, this sacrifice was in time rendered unnecessary. Much credit is due the Eastman experts--stimulated and encouraged by Edison, but independently of him--for the production at last of a highly sensitized, fine-grained emulsion presenting the highly sensitized surface that Edison sought.
Having at last obtained apparently the proper material upon which to secure the photographs, the problem then remained to devise an apparatus by means of which from twenty to forty pictures per second could be taken; the film being stationary during the exposure and, upon the closing of the shutter, being moved to present a fresh surface. In connection with this problem it is interesting to note that this question of high speed was apparently regarded by all Edison's predecessors as the crucial point. Ducos, for example, expended a great deal of useless ingenuity in devising a camera by means of which a tape-line film could receive the photographs while being in continuous movement, necessitating the use of a series of moving lenses. Another experimenter, Dumont, made use of a single large plate and a great number of lenses which were successively exposed. Muybridge, as we have seen, used a series of cameras, one for each plate. Marey was limited to a very few photographs, because the entire surface had to be stopped and started in connection with each exposure.
After the accomplishment of the fact, it would seem to be the obvious thing to use a single lens and move the sensitized film with respect to it, intermittently bringing the surface to rest, then exposing it, then cutting off the light and moving the surface to a fresh position; but who, other than Edison, would assume that such a device could be made to repeat these movements over and over again at the rate of twenty to forty per second? Users of kodaks and other forms of film cameras will appreciate perhaps better than others the difficulties of the problem, because in their work, after an exposure, they have to advance the film forward painfully to the extent of the next picture before another exposure can take place, these operations permitting of speeds of but a few pictures per minute at best. Edison's solution of the problem involved the production of a kodak in which from twenty to forty pictures should be taken IN EACH SECOND, and with such fineness of adjustment that each should exactly coincide with its predecessors even when subjected to the test of enlargement by projection. This, however, was finally accomplished, and in the summer of 1889 the first modern motion- picture camera was made. More than this, the mechanism for operating the film was so constructed that the movement of the film took place in one- tenth of the time required for the exposure, giving the film an opportunity to come to rest prior to the opening of the shutter. From that day to this the Edison camera has been the accepted standard for securing pictures of objects in motion, and such changes as have been made in it have been purely in the nature of detail mechanical refinements.
The earliest form of exhibiting apparatus, known as the Kinetoscope, was a machine in which a positive print from the negative obtained in the camera was exhibited directly to the eye through a peep- hole; but in 1895 the films were applied to modified forms of magic lanterns, by which the images are projected upon a screen. Since that date the industry has developed very rapidly, and at the present time (1910) all of the principal American manufacturers of motion pictures are paying a royalty to Edison under his basic patents.
From the early days of pictures representing simple movements, such as a man sneezing, or a skirt-dance, there has been a gradual evolution, until now the pictures represent not only actual events in all their palpitating instantaneity, but highly developed dramas and scenarios enacted in large, well-equipped glass studios, and the result of infinite pains and expense of production. These pictures are exhibited in upward of eight thousand places of amusement in the United States, and are witnessed by millions of people each year. They constitute a cheap, clean form of amusement for many persons who cannot spare the money to go to the ordinary theatres, or they may be exhibited in towns that are too small to support a theatre. More than this, they offer to the poor man an effective substitute for the saloon. Probably no invention ever made has afforded more pleasure and entertainment than the motion picture.
Aside from the development of the motion picture as a spectacle, there has gone on an evolution in its use for educational purposes of wide range, which must not be overlooked. In fact, this form of utilization has been carried further in Europe than in this country as a means of demonstration in the arts and sciences. One may study animal life, watch a surgical operation, follow the movement of machinery, take lessons in facial expression or in calisthenics. It seems a pity that in motion pictures should at last have been found the only competition that the ancient marionettes cannot withstand. But aside from the disappearance of those entertaining puppets, all else is gain in the creation of this new art.
The work at the Edison laboratory in the development of the motion picture was as usual intense and concentrated, and, as might be expected, many of the early experiments were quite primitive in their character until command had been secured of relatively perfect apparatus. The subjects registered jerkily by the films were crude and amusing, such as of Fred Ott's sneeze, Carmencita dancing, Italians and their performing bears, fencing, trapeze stunts, horsemanship, blacksmithing--just simple movements without any attempt to portray the silent drama. One curious incident of this early study occurred when "Jim" Corbett was asked to box a few rounds in front of the camera, with a "dark un" to be selected locally. This was agreed to, and a celebrated bruiser was brought over from Newark. When this "sparring partner" came to face Corbett in the imitation ring he was so paralyzed with terror he could hardly move. It was just after Corbett had won one of his big battles as a prize-fighter, and the dismay of his opponent was excusable. The "boys" at the laboratory still laugh consumedly when they tell about it.
The first motion-picture studio was dubbed by the staff the "Black Maria." It was an unpretentious oblong wooden structure erected in the laboratory yard, and had a movable roof in the central part. This roof could be raised or lowered at will. The building was covered with black roofing paper, and was also painted black inside. There was no scenery to render gay this lugubrious environment, but the black interior served as the common background for the performers, throwing all their actions into high relief. The whole structure was set on a pivot so that it could be swung around with the sun; and the movable roof was opened so that the accentuating sunlight could stream in upon the actor whose gesticulations were being caught by the camera. These beginnings and crudities are very remote from the elaborate and expensive paraphernalia and machinery with which the art is furnished to-day.
At the present time the studios in which motion pictures are taken are expensive and pretentious affairs. An immense building of glass, with all the properties and stage-settings of a regular theatre, is required. The Bronx Park studio of the Edison company cost at least one hundred thousand dollars, while the well-known house of Pathe Freres in France--one of Edison's licensees--makes use of no fewer than seven of these glass theatres. All of the larger producers of pictures in this country and abroad employ regular stock companies of actors, men and women selected especially for their skill in pantomime, although, as most observers have perhaps suspected, in the actual taking of the pictures the performers are required to carry on an animated and prepared dialogue with the same spirit and animation as on the regular stage. Before setting out on the preparation of a picture, the book is first written --known in the business as a scenario--giving a complete statement as to the scenery, drops and background, and the sequence of events, divided into scenes as in an ordinary play. These are placed in the hands of a "producer," corresponding to a stage- director, generally an actor or theatrical man of experience, with a highly developed dramatic instinct. The various actors are selected, parts are assigned, and the scene-painters are set to work on the production of the desired scenery. Before the photographing of a scene, a long series of rehearsals takes place, the incidents being gone over and over again until the actors are "letter perfect." So persistent are the producers in the matter of rehearsals and the refining and elaboration of details, that frequently a picture that may be actually photographed and reproduced in fifteen minutes, may require two or three weeks for its production. After the rehearsal of a scene has advanced sufficiently to suit the critical requirements of the producer, the camera man is in requisition, and he is consulted as to lighting so as to produce the required photographic effect. Preferably, of course, sunlight is used whenever possible, hence the glass studios; but on dark days, and when night-work is necessary, artificial light of enormous candle-power is used, either mercury arcs or ordinary arc lights of great size and number.
Under all conditions the light is properly screened and diffused to suit the critical eye of the camera man. All being in readiness, the actual picture is taken, the actors going through their rehearsed parts, the producer standing out of the range of the camera, and with a megaphone to his lips yelling out his instructions, imprecations, and approval, and the camera man grinding at the crank of the camera and securing the pictures at the rate of twenty or more per second, making a faithful and permanent record of every movement and every change of facial expression. At the end of the scene the negative is developed in the ordinary way, and is then ready for use in the printing of the positives for sale. When a further scene in the play takes place in the same setting, and without regard to its position in the plot, it is taken up, rehearsed, and photographed in the same way, and afterward all the scenes are cemented together in the proper sequence, and form the complete negative. Frequently, therefore, in the production of a motion-picture play, the first and the last scene may be taken successively, the only thing necessary being, of course, that after all is done the various scenes should be arranged in their proper order. The frames, having served their purpose, now go back to the scene-painter for further use. All pictures are not taken in studios, because when light and weather permit and proper surroundings can be secured outside, scenes can best be obtained with natural scenery--city streets, woods, and fields. The great drawback to the taking of pictures out-of-doors, however, is the inevitable crowd, attracted by the novelty of the proceedings, which makes the camera man's life a torment by getting into the field of his instrument. The crowds are patient, however, and in one Edison picture involving the blowing up of a bridge by the villain of the piece and the substitution of a pontoon bridge by a company of engineers just in time to allow the heroine to pass over in her automobile, more than a thousand people stood around for almost an entire day waiting for the tedious rehearsals to end and the actual performance to begin. Frequently large bodies of men are used in pictures, such as troops of soldiers, and it is an open secret that for weeks during the Boer War regularly equipped British and Boer armies confronted each other on the peaceful hills of Orange, New Jersey, ready to enact before the camera the stirring events told by the cable from the seat of hostilities. These conflicts were essentially harmless, except in one case during the battle of Spion Kopje, when "General Cronje," in his efforts to fire a wooden cannon, inadvertently dropped his fuse into a large glass bottle containing gunpowder. The effect was certainly most dramatic, and created great enthusiasm among the many audiences which viewed the completed production; but the unfortunate general, who is still an employee, was taken to the hospital, and even now, twelve years afterward, he says with a grin that whenever he has a moment of leisure he takes the time to pick a few pieces of glass from his person!
Edison's great contribution to the regular stage was the incandescent electric lamp, which enabled the production of scenic effects never before even dreamed of, but which we accept now with so much complacency. Yet with the motion picture, effects are secured that could not be reproduced to the slightest extent on the real stage. The villain, overcome by a remorseful conscience, sees on the wall of the room the very crime which he committed, with HIMSELF as the principal actor; one of the easy effects of double exposure. The substantial and ofttimes corpulent ghost or spirit of the real stage has been succeeded by an intangible wraith, as transparent and unsubstantial as may be demanded in the best book of fairy tales--more double exposure. A man emerges from the water with a splash, ascends feet foremost ten yards or more, makes a graceful curve and lands on a spring-board, runs down it to the bank, and his clothes fly gently up from the ground and enclose his person--all unthinkable in real life, but readily possible by running the motion-picture film backward! The fairy prince commands the princess to appear, consigns the bad brothers to instant annihilation, turns the witch into a cat, confers life on inanimate things; and many more startling and apparently incomprehensible effects are carried out with actual reality, by stop-work photography. In one case, when the command for the heroine to come forth is given, the camera is stopped, the young woman walks to the desired spot, and the camera is again started; the effect to the eye--not knowing of this little by-play--is as if she had instantly appeared from space. The other effects are perhaps obvious, and the field and opportunities are absolutely unlimited. Other curious effects are secured by taking the pictures at a different speed from that at which they are exhibited. If, for example, a scene occupying thirty seconds is reproduced in ten seconds, the movements will be three times as fast, and vice versa. Many scenes familiar to the reader, showing automobiles tearing along the road and rounding corners at an apparently reckless speed, are really pictures of slow and dignified movements reproduced at a high speed.
Brief reference has been made to motion pictures of educational subjects, and in this field there are very great opportunities for development. The study of geography, scenes and incidents in foreign countries, showing the lives and customs and surroundings of other peoples, is obviously more entertaining to the child when actively depicted on the screen than when merely described in words. The lives of great men, the enacting of important historical events, the reproduction of great works of literature, if visually presented to the child must necessarily impress his mind with greater force than if shown by mere words. We predict that the time is not far distant when, in many of our public schools, two or three hours a week will be devoted to this rational and effective form of education.
By applying microphotography to motion pictures an additional field is opened up, one phase of which may be the study of germ life and bacteria, so that our future medical students may become as familiar with the habits and customs of the Anthrax bacillus, for example, as of the domestic cat.
From whatever point of view the subject is approached, the fact remains that in the motion picture, perhaps more than with any other invention, Edison has created an art that must always make a special appeal to the mind and emotions of men, and although so far it has not advanced much beyond the field of amusement, it contains enormous possibilities for serious development in the future. Let us not think too lightly of the humble five-cent theatre with its gaping crowd following with breathless interest the vicissitudes of the beautiful heroine. Before us lies an undeveloped land of opportunity which is destined to play an important part in the growth and welfare of the human race.
Return to the Thomas A Edison in Menlo Park index
Return to The Metuchen Edison History Features index
Return to J Halpin CPA page
Last updated by Jim Halpin on 9/17/99.