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During the late 1880s, French-born inventor Louis Le Prince developed a device to shoot film. Le Prince shot many short films during 1888 in Leeds, England. The next year he started using a new invention known as celluloid film with his device. The results impressed many people. In 1890, he was going to demonstrate his motion picture camera during a public premiere in New York City. He mysteriously disappeared when traveling in France. There were then efforts to keep his contribution to cinema unknown. William Kennedy Dickson who worked at the New Jersey laboratories of the Edison company is often credited with inventing the first motion-picture camera.
Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince was born on August 28, 1841. His father was an officer in the French army. As Le Prince grew up, he spent quite a bit of his time at the home of a friend of his father. The man was Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre who has been recognized as a pioneer in photography. Starting at a young age, Le Prince received lessons about photography and the chemistry associated with them from Daguerre. Le Prince studied painting in Paris and attended Leipzig University where he was a student in post-graduate chemistry.
In 1866, Le Prince moved to Leeds, England. He was invited there by a friend from college named John Whitley. His friend was a partner in a firm that made brass valves and components. Le Prince married his friend's sister in 1869 Her name was Elizabeth and was known as a gifted artist. Le Prince and his new wife started a school of applied art in 1871. The couple developed a reputation for their ability to put color photographs onto pottery and metal. Their success resulted in them being given a commission for portraits of the Prime Minister, William Gladstone as well as Queen Victoria.
Le Prince visited the United States in 1881. He went there as an agent for his brother-in-law's firm, Whitley Partners. Le Prince stayed in the United States when his contract with Whitley Partners ended. He then began managing a small group of French artists. They produced large panoramas that were placed on exhibition at various places in New York. These panoramas usually depicted famous battles. This is when he began to experiment with producing moving photographs. He had designed a camera that worked with sixteen lenses. This was his first invention Le Prince had patented. It was not considered a complete success by him. His invention could capture motion, but each lens captured an image of a subject from a different viewpoint. If the image would have been projected, it would have been jumping in all directions.
Single Lens Camera
In 1887, Le Prince returned to England and his family. He worked on creating a single-lens camera and had success in late 1888. Le Prince built an experimental model at his workshop in Leeds, England. He then created an updated version of his motion picture camera and used this version to shoot his films. Le Prince first used it on October 14, 1888, to film what would be referred to as the Rondhay Garden Scene. It pictured his son Adolphe playing an accordion. Le Prince later used his new motion picture camera to film pedestrians crossing streets, road traffic, and more.
Le Prince was getting ready for a trip to the United States in September 1890. His goal was to show the work of his motion picture camera at a public premiere in New York City. He would join his wife and children who were already there. Prior to his journey, Le Prince decided he should return to France from England. He wanted to go to Dijon and visit his brother. On September 16, 1890, Le Prince took a train to Paris. He was forced to take a later train than he had planned. In Paris, his friends missed his arrival. Le Prince was never seen again by his friends or family. His family was frantic. The French police as well as Scotland Yard engaged in an exhaustive search for several days. Le Prince was never found.
In 1897, Le Prince was officially declared dead. There was a photograph discovered of the body of a drowned man being pulled from the Seine in 1890. Some believe the image resembled Le Prince, but it was never officially determined to be him.
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There were many theories about the death of Le Prince that surfaced. None of them have been proven to be true. One of the most popular is that Le Prince may have failed to get his moving picture to work. Because of this he was in serious debt and decided to take his own life. The Le Prince family suspected the death could have been a result of a patent dispute with Edison. A 1990 book and documentary titled The Missing Reel covered this theory. French film theorist Jean Mitry believed Le Prince was killed. He says if Le Prince wanted to disappear, he could have done this many times prior to his journey to France. Mitry believes Le Prince never boarded the train. He also wondered if Le Prince was suicidal as his brother claimed, why did his brother not try to stop him from leaving?
The public premiere of the motion picture camera Le Prince invented in 1888 never took place in New York. This has resulted in his major contribution to cinema often being forgotten. William Kennedy Dickson worked for the Edison Company in West Orange, New Jersey. He is often given credit as the person who created the first motion-picture camera in 1891.
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