The Historic Disappearance of Louis Le Prince
This week on BuzzFeed install we covered the mysterious, disappearance, of Lois lip prints this is one of my favorite cases we've ever covered, it's got pretty much everything you'd want it's got mystery, it's got history and it's, got a train a big train guy yeah. I'm a big fan of train mysteries there among, my favorites, well. In that case. All. Right I'm. Not as excited anymore but let's, get into it any. Casual. Cinema, fan would likely tell you that Thomas, Edison invented. The motion picture camera in the late 1800s. In 1888. Thomas. Edison, wrote quote I am experimenting. Upon an instrument, which does for the eye with. The phonograph does, for the ear which, is the recording, and reproduction, of things in motion and quote, being, a film student myself I learned about Edison in film school but, what. If I told you the true father of moving pictures may, actually be, a brilliant Frenchman named, Louie la Prince you. Might say well, if this were true then why have I never heard of him maybe. You were never supposed to because. On one fateful afternoon on, Monday September 16th. 1890. Louella, Prince would step onto a train, and never, be seen again a, vanishing. That, would essentially, wipe him from the history books let's, start from the beginning Louie, la Prince was born in the northeastern, city of Metz France on August, 28th, 1841. Louie. Was, a student of art chemistry. And physics, in 1866. Louie moved to Leeds England to, work as an agent, at a brass foundry called, Whitley partners, in 1869. Louis. Married a fellow artist Elizabeth. Lizzie, Whitley, in 1881. Louie. Lizzie, and their children, moved to New York it's here, that Louie would manage artists, painting panoramic, landscapes, these, immersive paintings. Would inspire Louie to create an even, more immersive, experience. Pictures. That, moved interesting. That that would be the, impetus for that if it was just him feeling, immersed in it exams, like how can I. How can I bring. This up a level you know and that's how you know he was a true artist and that's why I respect, this man yeah I was gonna say this guy sounds. Like a real lover, of film. Louie began working on moving pictures, as early, as 1885. Inventing. A camera, with 16 lenses, that he hoped could create what we now call movies. It's thought that Louie began building and testing an early, version of his single, lens camera, soon after, according, to Louie's daughter Marie who, was a teenager at the time she. Recalled seeing her father project, moving images, on a wall in their workshop, as early, as 1886. This, was long before Thomas. Edison had even begun conceptualizing. Motion, picture designs about two years later in. 1886. Louie, applied, for a United, States patent, for, his 16, lens camera, that, included, rephrasing. Allowing, for a single, lens version, this process, would take nearly two years in. 1887. Louis, moved back to Leeds a move, that according to a New York Times article was, motivated, by a desire to hide out from those who might steal his work such, as quote. Industrial. Spies end quote as his wife Lizzie, would describe them can you imagine if you're your. Dad just. Invented, something, completely. Unknown. To the world and you just have a memory like if you, had. A hazy memory of your father flying. Around the living room like. A like a jet pack yeah if your father is the living father in the living room yeah I had or if he had like hover. Shoes or, something he was flying and you're like yes I have this vague memory of, my father flying, around the living room he. Was he, was vacuuming, the living room, and he, was doing it well levitating, over the ground well because that point movies weren't a thing so she had this memory of this thing that was wholly, unknown, to the world yeah I mean it's it's pretty amazing, yeah and then.
Also Add on to that the layer of but, no one knows he invented it in, 1880. Louie built what would be his true claim to, being the father of moving, pictures a working. Version of the single lens motion, picture camera, it was, wooden mahogany. And weighed, 40, pounds it, had a hand crank that manually moved light-sensitive paper along between the lens and shutter here's tony booth of the National, Science and Media Museum, in the UK, on Lois, single lens camera, quote, if you look at the mechanism, that camera is using it's, a very similar mechanism, to all the subsequent Moving, Image cameras, that came after, that it, is a single roll of film moving, from one school to another through. A shutter and taking, sequential, images which, then were, designed to be projected to reproduce, that movement, as a piece, of moving image, recording, live action, yes, I would say he was the first one to do that end quote. Oh very funny also, I feel like we don't often pay enough attention to the fact that we still call them movies, it's. A funny word it's a funny word it's like calling your teeth Chuy's or. Shoes step. 'yes we're. Gonna go to the movies or pens righties yeah, when. You think about it that's a kind of a horrible name like if someone was like what should we call this moving picture and if someone went movies. We'll go to the movies Louise single-lens camera, would produce viewable, films in 1888, three, of which have survived, one. Of these films what you're seeing now was, claimed to have been shot on October, 14, 1888. Showing. Louise son in-laws. And a friend walking around the, date of October, 14, 1888. Is backed, up by the fact that one of the women's shown in the film died, 10 days later on October 24th, 1888. Keep. In mind, Edison's, earliest, film wouldn't, even be shot until, nearly three years later in 1891. That's. A motion picture it's this yes, it is. See. Three, years earlier he had that and yet. Lost. The time. Though. Louie had a working camera the, problem, Louie now faced was that he needed a a way to show these films and be, a more, durable material. Than his lights instead of paper in order to plan for repeated, projections, of his movies he experimented, and finally, landed on celluloid. In 1889. Which, he had began using for both shooting, and projection. This eliminated, many of the problems, he'd been having with his projector, such, as glass plates that kept breaking, Louis made early, unofficial.
Demonstrations. Of his device on March, 30th, 1890. Louis, projected, his moving pictures, at the National Opera, in Paris, Ferdinand. Mobizen, Secretary, of the National Opera swore, in an affidavit, that he had witnessed what the projector, could do and had, even quote made, a complete, study of this system, and quote, meanwhile. Edison. Would not publicly, show his motion pictures, until three, and a half years later in, the, summer of 1890. Louis, wrote to Lizzie who, was back in New York with the rest of the family, in the letter Louis. Stated his intent, to return to New York in September where he would publicly and officially, demonstrate, his moving pictures, to the world it's, just it seems to be going so well for him at this point I know he's. Got the world is his oyster he's. On the verge of becoming a. Millionaire. I don't. Know if there's anything that's more sad than feeling, positive momentum and knowing. Inevitably, it's. Gonna lend it's gonna lead to off a cliff you're, you. Could see the drop-off coming, at. This, point Louis. Had been granted patents, in France and Britain that covered his single-lens, motion, picture camera however. None. Of the patents were thorough enough to legally proclaim, him as the inventor of a working, version if Louie, were able to publicly, demonstrate, his moving pictures, in New York as planned, Louie. Surely, would have secured, his spot in history legally. As the, inventor of the motion, picture camera as, bad. Luck would have it this. Brings us to his disappearance, at the, time Louie, was visiting his brother Albert. La Prince in Dijon, France on. September 16th. 1890, at, 2:37. P.m.. Louella, Prince boarded, a train for, Paris as part, of a trip back to Lee, where he would retrieve his film devices and then, travel back to New York to meet his family and show his invention, with. Him Louis, only carried, a black suitcase, according. To Christopher Rollins, author of a book on the case the, suitcase. Contains, some rather important. Documents. Inside. The suitcase was, Louie's latest work on his patents, at the time Louie was still tweaking his patents, on his single lens camera, to, further protect himself from, the theft of his inventions, as Louie's, assistant, Frederick Mason would remind reporters, decades, later not only did Louie disappear, but, the suitcase, did as well all efforts. To find Louis failed Louie, la Prince carrying. Paperwork, meant to protect his creation, boarded, a train to share his invention, with the world and. Vanished, just. Going missing on this one day is the, difference between you. And I never hearing of him and everybody. In the world knowing, his name that's. Crazy, makes, a value a day Oh. Shortly, after Louie's disappearance, a family, associate, would enter Louie's workshop, and discover, Louie's machines safe packed. For the journey to America, untouched. Unfortunately. In a missing-persons, case nobody. Not even a spouse is allowed, to use the missing persons patent for seven, years, meaning, Louie's wife Lizzie, would be unable to commercialize. Louie's invention, until 1897. But, as mentioned before Edison. Displayed, his Kinetoscope, movies in 1894. And projected. His films, as early, as April, 1896. As history. Would tell Edison. Would often, be credited, with inventing the motion picture camera and. Louie would. Be forgotten, okay. Now I have a question Jesus. Christ I suddenly, I suddenly, wonder. Maybe. Edison, simply, heard about this. Fanciful. Inventive. Man mm-hmm, with his wonderful. Machine, yeah, that was hands off for, seven years and it. Put the idea in his head he's, a clearly. Capable. Man. Edison. Wasn't inspired by Louie though he was inspired by.
Imagery. Or what if that's just what he's, obviously. If you ask Edison would inspired, you he's not gonna be like oh the guy who made it before me the guy I, stole it from obviously. He was a dumb question. Knee. Twirls his moustache, and backs. Out of the room yeah well. I just thought if if he was aware of it I wouldn't. Put it past him, to be able once, he realizes, oh what'd you just shoot a bunch of pictures, back-to-back, yeah rejected. He reverse engineer now reverse engineer, he was smart enough of a guy to do that and he had the he. Had the resources he. Had probably, the know-how, so I, could, see him just, essentially. Stealing. The idea and. Like you said reverse engineer with, that let's. Get into the theories the. First theory is that Louie was abducted, or killed by, men working for none other than Thomas Edison, this, theory, was held by Louie's wife Lizzie, who, believed Edison's, motive, was to stop Louie's invention, from reaching the public the. Timelines certainly, do match up in, 1888. Edison. Began to seriously think, about moving, pictures, Wow by that time Louie, had already successfully. Shot films, with his single lens camera, behind, the scenes Thomas, Edison was said to be an egotistical. Genius, though, a good, deal of his success, was, built on taking credit for others ideas such, as the ideas of people that he employed, Edison. Had many rivals and, he even ruined some of them but, he was pretty adept at doing so through legal battles, he, frequently claimed others were encroaching, on his patents, and often, wand these lawsuits and used the leverage to his financial benefit. So. But. Cowardly, a lot, of the litigious approach he, made a lot of his money off of doing this actually I would say a majority of his money he made off just suing people. Piggybacking. Off that in 1898. Edison. Sued american, mutoscope and Biograph company, on the, grounds, of patent, infringement on, his Kinetoscope, motion picture camera. This lawsuit, would ironically, bring Louella prints into the spotlight as mutoscope. Would call Louie's son Adolphe Fela Prince as one, of its witnesses, a dolphin. Actually. Took a year off from Columbia to travel, and gather evidence to make the case that his father invented, the motion picture camera not. Edison. As Edison, was claiming according. To Rollins Lizzie, and other family members still held onto the possibility, that Louie was being held captive having, been kidnapped, in 1890. And that, once it was known in a court of law that he was the true inventor of the motion picture camera his, captors, would, let him go wait. Wait wait who. Captured, him well they think that Louie the prince was kidnapped, by maybe Edison, or some other inventor, and the, only reason why they were holding him captive was because no one knew he existed but, if his name was brought into the spotlight in this legal battle maybe. The captors would let him go it's a it's, a somewhat, I, think. It's a somewhat logical thought, but, a very sad thought it's a very sad thought because it sounds like they're, just grasping. At straws yeah, it's it's a kind of a bummer but it's just a big straw desperately. Hoping that their father is still alive, yeah. During. The trial, Adolphe, II proved the films had been made prior to October 24th. 1888, by producing, his grandmother's, death certificate, dated on that day as she, appears, in one of the films yet, this wasn't totally incontrovertible. Proof that, the single lens camera, built by Louie was the same one that took the films in 1888. When, examining, Louie's patents, the lawyers in the case focused, solely on Louie's, US patent and sadly. For Louie this, particular, padded, unlike, his ones in Britain and France was, meant mainly for, his previous, 16 lens camera, and did, not include specifications. For the single lens camera, the camera being focused, on in the trial by bad luck the phrase quote one, or more lenses, end quote, which, would have covered both of Louie's inventions, was removed, by the US Patent, Office on the grounds, that they already had granted a patent for a single lens camera, in the past though. That, particular patent was for a still, camera. Not a motion picture camera like Louise this. Emission, would prove to be disastrous in. Trial, I can't. Blame them for that though it's. Something they've never heard, of they're probably like, whoa you want to patent a camera, or what are you trying patent boots next get out of here I guess. But, I mean if you just looked at the rest of the patent it was clear that it was for a motion picture camera, well maybe I'm not saying the US Patent Office was in on this I'm just saying it's bad luck I also feel like maybe he should have discussed it with them he did for two years for two years he said put that phrase back in he went he went back and forth with them for, two years and they, finally settled, on it and then he was like I guess at that point he was warned I was like fine take out the fridge again that's his fault I mean.
You Got to get a pad in dug. His own grave the, trial would initially, go for Edison, and over, the years the trial would go back and forth, starting. The famed patent, ORS as such. A Dolphy's, testimony, would move out of focus and his father Louis la Prince would once again be, forgotten. Perhaps. Tangentially. Related in, 1901. Three. Years after a dull fade testified, a dull fee was, found dead in the woods bloody. And broken he, had apparently been shot dead he, had been out shooting and a gun was found by his side it, was assumed he died of a hunting accident some. Believed it was suicide while, some in the family believed he'd been murdered we. Think about that you, know this is at a time in history. When, when. Murders were just, just. That just. Oh well he, just happened to. Testify. In trial and one of the Omegas. You've had in cases I'm saying it's very likely he was murdered but it doesn't matter because it's what the 1919. Hundred or so nineteen. Who. Gives a. Detector. Goes out there with a magnifying, glass goes he was shot he was shot likely, by someone else, however, in regards, to Edison, playing any part in foul play regarding, Louis or even a Dolph a authors, john jakku laws and jock fend point, out that there is no evidence to support this, theory for, what it's worth Lori, Schneider Louie's. Great-great, granddaughter. Has also voiced her doubts that Edison, a busy, and successful man, would, care enough to send a henchman to kill a man the, second, theory is that Albert la Prince Luiz brother was, responsible, for Louie's disappearance, Luiz, brother Albert, an architect. Was notably, the, only person, who claimed to have seen Louie board the train, according. To Rollins, Albert even spoke to Louie through his train compartment, window however. The, 1890. Investigation. Never turned up a single train, passenger, who could say they saw Louis on board this, is odd considering. The fact that Louie was a gargantuan, man, standing. At six foot four probably. Not a man that could get lost in a crowd I don't know how many six, four fellows they were walking around at that time but. I will say that when I get on a train I'm not focused, on other passengers, no you're reading the funnies or uh you, know especially. In old time trains when you're in compartments, you're looking the Harry Potter train you're thinking about the candy, card coming by you're not thinking about oh I wonder if someone here's gonna get murdered maybe it may have to tell detail a little bit later also I think there's some value to the fact that everybody's. Clothes look the same back like everyone. Was probably wearing just a black suit or something there's, no one walking around in a like, a Hornet, starter, jacket, yeah I just. Think I thought, this was a good opportunity for you as a fellow Lord of the Rings tree to provide something called ents whatever. Perhaps, the main reason, summer suspicious, of Albert involves. The will of Louie Albert's, mother who, passed away in 1887. Albert. Was the executor, of their mother's will and according, to author Christopher, Rollins Louie had traveled to Dijon France not. Just to visit Albert, but to receive his share of the inheritance worth. Over one hundred and forty thousand, dollars by today's standards, this, gets even more interesting, when you consider the investigators, in 1890.
Did Not seem to know about the inheritance, which, would give Albert a motive, and furthermore. They, did not seem to question, Albert's, testimony, regarding seeing, Louis board the train Lori. Schneider Louie's. Great-great, granddaughter. Once again doubts this theory basing. Her beliefs on Lizzie 'la princes memoirs, which depict, a close, loving family, authors. Uh loss and fend also, note that there is no evidence to support this theory and emphasize. That Albert's, family, strongly, denies it all, right I just. Don't buy it and I'll tell you why okay there's. Nothing, that. I looked into that proves, Albert. Lip prints was any fine was in any dire financial stress, I was gonna say is there a need for money, there there isn't so why. Would he all of a sudden decide oh I want some extra bucks let's, let, me kill my brother my brother and, ruin, his family, by. Taking. Stripping, him of his greatest invention he, killed them during. Life and after, death then at that point you know you. Know they say a man dies twice you, know story-wise. I could see why some people believe this sure but. When you when you really just think about it yeah it's a little - soap opera I'm not yeah I'm not buying it I'm not buying it. Okay. Great, I'm. Not you, don't have to I'm good it's not purchased it's on the shelf it's gonna stay there I'm not selling it I, didn't. Say you were selling it someone is and. I'm not buying it I mean. This, is a this, metaphor, is where. Are we I don't know the, final theory is perhaps the bleep yes that Louie the Prince simply. Didn't want to be found this, is the theory of Louie's, great nephew, who is the grandson, of Albert. That theory goes that Louie was greatly in debt to, the tune of eighty four thousand, dollars by today's standards, during, the mid 1870s, Louie. Gave a bad loan to Lizzie's family business, that didn't, pan out toward. The end the, dual income, of Louie and Lizzie had to not only provide, for the family but, also financed. Louie's film experiments. And according, to author Christopher, Rollins, Louie, hadn't, worked steadily for, an income, for about three years leading. Up to his disappearance in, April. 1890. Louie, wrote to Lizzie about problems, with the projector, adding, quotes I hope, to send the word it is, in my next and also, some cash which, unfortunately I, have not in hand and it, makes me feel very uneasy as I, know you do not make much just now end quote. It's, been suggested that in the end Mui, relied on his mother's inheritance in order to continue, working on his projector, but, learned during his trip to France that he didn't have immediate, access to the money of, Louise, breakout invention, some, like, author Christopher, Rollins, believe that Louis a noted, perfectionist. Felt his projector, was not up to the standards, he had envisioned, his, letters offer evidence that Louis was unhappy with the quality of the projectors, picture, it was bright and the picture was jumpy, according. To Rollins, it's possible, that Louis just got off the train between dijon, and paris rather, than face his family, in defeat for, people who believe this people. That believe maybe. He wasn't pleased with his projector, mm-hmm, I think. They're lacking perspective. You. Got to remember people. Didn't even know what the phrase moving, picture meant so, regardless, of whether or not the picture was jumpy, he. Shows, up to this event he, shows a picture, that starts moving, people, are gonna think this guy's a goddamn, wizard yeah they're gonna they're gonna they're not gonna be like oh bro. The quality's bad it's not 1080p. I don't, get it I existed. Back in this time and I saw a moving picture I probably think his camera was bewitched I'd kiss him on the lips I'd say, sir you've done it I'm just saying it's.
Stupid, For people to think that he was maybe, feeling a little uneasy about his projector, so he decided I'm, just gonna jump off this train now Frederick. Mason, Louie's assistant, believed, that Louie would only stand to gain from his inventions, which would thus make it nonsensical. For him to intentionally. Disappear, on the cusp of his debut David. Wilkinson a producer, on a documentary, on Louie said, quote I am absolutely, convinced, that he would have raised money from a very distinguished, audience so then he could start manufacturing on, quite, a big scale he, would have done what Edison and the Lumiere's did but before them he would have been known end quote. After. Hearing Louie's story I can't, help but agree have. Louis successfully, shown his work in New York Louie la Prince would have been that, I read in textbooks as a film, student but, unfortunately, that, never happened. The reason behind that will tragically, elude us for the foreseeable, future I think it was Edison's goons I think, it was either Edison's, goons or some version of goons whether they're Edison's, or some other creator maybe I don't mean Lumiere brothers seem less likely but there were other creators who were onto the emotion the only way our brothers were just whimsical. They didn't they weren't like let's kill this man I think it's because their name sounds whoops yeah they remind me of the candlestick from Beauty and the Beast Oh Lumiere yes. Yeah. Good catch on. The. Pen, and on the reference. Anyways. Yeah. I think it was some version of goons, my. Money's on Edison they could have been any goons I think. This man was, stripped. From glory right. At the cusp of it but. Maybe now people will know his name for. What it's worth if someone, were to ask me who, is the true father of moving, pictures I'd, say Louella, prints but, as for his disappearance I can only offer theories. As the, case of Louella prints will remain, unsolved.