We Have More Than Edison to Thank for the Movies

by Hugh BrownstoneLeave a Comment

In fact, it was Charles Francis Jenkins who invented the Phantoscope, the patent for which found its way into Thomas Edison’s portfolio — where it somehow morphed into the Vitascope.

The turn of the last century was not dissimilar to the 1970s and ‘80s. It was the dawn of a new technology (motion pictures rather than PCs); the personalities were outsized; the rewards were enormous; and credit was sometimes dubiously awarded.

Charles Francis Jenkins is only one of the people who in retrospect may have been slighted by the commercial victors in the earliest days of movie-making, but his story is no less fascinating.

150 years on, meet the prolific pioneer who brought us the movie projector

Via PBS:

Before the digital revolution hit the movie industry, the projector used in movie theaters was an evolution of the Phantoscope, developed by Charles Francis Jenkins, who was born nearly 150 years ago on Saturday.

“In terms of film projection, Jenkins was the catalyst,” Dr. Donald G. Godfrey, a Jenkins biographer and the author of “C. Francis Jenkins, Pioneer of Film and Television” told PBS NewsHour.

“Before life-size projection, we were hand cranking cards and film through kaleidoscope,” he said.

Born in Dayton, Ohio, to Quaker parents, Jenkins, who preferred to go by his middle name, acquired more than 300 patents over his 66 years of life.

Charles Francis Jenkins - meet the prolific pioneer who brought us the movie projector


He patented the waxed paper bottle — versions of which are still used today to hold milk and ice cream — an altimeter, an early version of the sightseeing bus as well as an airplane catapult.

These inventions allowed Jenkins to fund his passion projects, which were largely experiments in television and film.

In 1894, before a crowd of family, friends and some press in Jenkins’ childhood town of Richmond, Indiana, he unveiled the Phantoscope for the first time.

On the screen, the Phantoscope projected the life-size picture of a woman dancing across a stage. While taking a bow at the end, the dancer lifted her skirt and revealed her ankle. The women in attendance walked out, while the men stayed to watch, making it perhaps the first protest over exhibitionism in film, Godfrey said.

Read full article at PBS “150 years on, meet the prolific pioneer who brought us the movie projector”

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(cover photo credit: snap from PBS)

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