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Louis le Prince

The Unsolved Disappearance of Louis le Prince

If you ask the average person “who invented the original motion picture camera?” their answer is to be Thomas Edison. After all, he’s remembered as the father of electricity, and he’s in the history books as the inventor of the modern motion picture camera. However, that’s not exactly true. In fact, a French man named Louis le Prince may have been the first to create a movie camera.

However, his story has been largely lost to time. That’s because, in 1890, at the age of 41, le Prince vanished from a train bound for Paris. Theories regarding his sudden disappearance are numerous, and some even include accusations that Edison had le Prince killed and stole his motion picture technology.

Who Was Louis le Prince?

Louis le Prince was born in 1841 in Metz, France. He was a talented inventor, and by the late 1880s had created several reels of film using revolutionary motion picture technology. He was the first person to use a single lens camera to record moving images to a strip of paper. The mode of his invention is rather similar to the eventual movie camera that modern audiences would recognize.

His wife, Elizabeth Whitley, and son, Adolphe, were both waiting for him in New York when le Prince made a visit to France in 1890. The inventor paid a visit to his brother, who lived in Dijon, France. There, the two briefly spoke before le Prince got on a train bound for Paris. Le Prince was expected to then travel to England, where he would file a patent for his motion picture camera.

From England, the inventor was expected to travel by boat to the US, where he would join his family. After arriving in New York, le Prince intended to hold a demonstration of his cinematography. However, this was not to be. Shortly after boarding the train bound for Paris, le Prince mysteriously vanished. There is no evidence as to what happened to him after that.

Theories About the Disappearance

There are numerous theories about what may have happened to Louis le Prince. Some experts believe that he committed suicide on the train, having been overwhelmed by professional debts and failed film experiments. Other theories hold that le Prince’s own brother may have killed him, in order to collect his share of their mother’s fortune in her will.

Yet other theories still contend that le Prince was murdered by agents working for Thomas Edison. This theory was promoted by le Prince’s own widow and son, who found it suspicious that Edison had working film camera prototypes a short year after Louis’ death.

The truth about what may have happened to the progenitor of the single-lens motion picture camera may be lost to time. What won’t be lost, however, is the memory of the father of cinema.

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Cameron Norris