With the 89th Academy Awards just two weeks away, it’s only fitting to recognize brothers Louis and Auguste Lumière, who patented the name “Cinématographe” in France on Feb. 13, 1895. The Cinématographe improved upon Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope, a motion picture viewer; the Lumière brothers’ three-in-one invention could not only record film but also develop and project it.
The lucrative Lumière family business was the production of photographic plates—Louis had invented a dry plate process for developing film—so it was only natural that father Antoine would attend an exhibition of the Kinetoscope in Paris. Fascinated by what he saw, Antoine issued his sons a challenge: Develop an alternative to the Kinetoscope, which could only be viewed by one person at a time.
Louis and Auguste rose to the task, creating the Cinématographe, which projected images on to a screen for group viewing. The Cinématographe was lightweight (about 11 pounds) and operated by hand-crank. Inspired by the way a sewing machine works, the brothers moved film through the camera using pins.
The portable machine also captured moving pictures, so the Lumières recorded footage of their factory’s workers leaving at the end of a shift. They showed “La Sortie des ouvriers de l’usine Lumière” (“Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory”), considered the first motion picture, at a March 1895 scientific exhibition in Paris. The first paid public motion picture screening took place Dec. 28, 1895, at the Grand Café on Paris’ Boulevard des Capucines.
About 450 Cinématographes were made. The brothers opened theaters in London, Brussels, and New York, where they showed newsreels and even a documentary about the Lyon Fire Department. Eventually, the Lumières gave up filmmaking, and by 1905 they were focused on inventing a way to develop color photographs.
The Lumières might be hidden figures to many in Hollywood today, but the residents of la-la land owe them a lot.
Tech Time Warp is a weekly feature that looks back at interesting moments and milestones in tech history.