Louis Le Prince

Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince (1841 - aft. 1890)

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Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince
Born in Metz, Francemap
Ancestors ancestors
[sibling(s) unknown]
Husband of — married 1869 in Leedsmap
Died after in Paris, Île-de-France, Francemap
Profile manager: Sunny Clark private message [send private message]
Profile last modified 3 May 2019 | Created 11 Jun 2014
This page has been accessed 1,314 times.
Louis Le Prince is Notable.



"...vanished 16 September 1890... French inventor who shot the first moving pictures on paper film using a single lens camera... heralded as the 'Father of Cinematography' since 1930... never able to perform a planned public demonstration in the US because he mysteriously vanished from a train on 16 September 1890... body and luggage were never found... over a century later, a police archive was found to contain a photograph of a drowned man who could have been him. Not long after Le Prince's disappearance, Thomas Edison tried to take credit for the invention... In 1898 Adolphe appeared as a witness for the defence in a court case brought by Edison against the American Mutoscope Company... suit claimed that Edison was the first and sole inventor of cinematography... Adolphe Le Prince was not allowed to present his father's two cameras as evidence (and so establish Le Prince’s prior claim as inventor)... the court ruled in favour of Edison... a year later that ruling was overturned." [1]


Alphabetized by bolded text.

  • Accordion Player is the second moving picture by Louis Le Prince filmed on 14 October 1888 at Roundhay Cottage (now named Oakwood Grange). The accordion player is Louis's brother Albert Le Prince (per Wikipedia), which means he was in Yorkshire, not France, on that date; or Louis's son Adolphe Le Prince (per IMDb), which makes more sense as he's also in the garden scene. Also available here. (Cite as "Accordion Player, 1888.")
  • Robert K Baggs, 8 December 2016. "The Mysterious Disappearance of Louis Le Prince, Father of Cinematography"; article on Fstoppers online accessed 2019.March.09. (Cite as "Baggs, 2016.")
    • This is a comprehensive article that focuses, as one would expect from its venue, on Le Prince's professional achievements. There are some copyediting errors that, if fixed, would provide clarity on non-photographic inconsistencies.
    • One is that he calls Le Prince's brother Albert in one place and Arthur in another, and he hasn't answered the reader who asked him, in the comments, which name was correct or if Louis had two brothers (only one [Albert], per Harvey, but both names may be correct; Louis has three given names).
    • Another is the order in which the films were made; in one place, he says Leeds Bridge was first, and in another place Roundhay Garden Scene.
    • A third error, in a caption, may be just a proofreading error, but if it isn't, it's significant: Oakwood Grand or Oakwood Grange? (As it happens, this may be a moot point. The First Film documentary, op cit, about 1:28 in, says that Oakwood Grange is the modern name and at the time the name was Roundhay Cottage. It would be interesting to know who changed the name and when. —  /ds on 2019.Apr.08)
    • One thing that Baggs really, really did right, and I thank him profoundly for it, is that he put the two films he embedded in the article on a loop so you can watch the two seconds over and over until sated. If you try to watch them on YouTube or the archive link, they play once and then the next film on the list loads on a new screen, and you've spent your time watching the control bar instead of examining the footage. /ds
  • Michael Harvey, 2016 documentary. The First Film: the greatest mystery in cinema history; released by Content Media Corporation, directed by David Wilkinson. Available on Amazon (USA) on 2019.Mar.10 for about $1 (rental) or $4 (purchase). (Cite as "Harvey, 2016.")
    • Mr Harvey, from Leeds, began researching Louis Le Prince in 1982 but didn't find funding for his documentary until about 2012. Despite the subtitle, Harvey's primary focus was on Le Prince's work and life, not his mysterious death. His research was exhaustive; he interviewed experts in many disparate and related fields and had the cooperation of Le Prince's family, including access to family records, such as photographs and letters.
  • Leeds Bridge is the third moving picture made in Yorkshire by Louis Le Prince in October 1888. A 45-second version, which repeats the 2-second footage several times, is embedded in the Baggs article. (Cite as "Leeds Bridge, 1888.")
  • Man Walking around a Corner, 1887. This 16-frame segment is not considered a moving picture per se, which is why Roundhay Garden Scene is considered the first film. It's the only surviving footage from the 16-lens camera. It was shot in Paris, probably as a test of the camera's mechanism. The man walking around the corner was Le Prince's mechanic. He sent the footage to his wife, who was holding the fort in NYC at the time, with a letter dated 18 August 1887. (Cite as "Man Walking around a Corner, 1887.")
  • Christopher Rawlence, 1990. The Missing Reel : the untold story of the lost inventor of moving pictures. Penguin Book ISBN 0-14-015973-8. End matter includes chronology, recommendations for further research, notes on sources, and index. You can check prices and library holdings at WorldCat. (Cite as "Rawlence, 1990.")
    • Biography of Louis Le Prince researched the old-fashioned way and published with the cooperation of the Le Prince family.
    • Written in the style of an historical novel, so there there are contradictions. For example, on page 12, Louis and his brother Albert have an amiable ride to the train station, but by page 48, they're described as arguing.
    • Don't rely on the back cover blurb. Whoever wrote it didn't read the book, as is obvious by the major error in its first sentence.
  • Roundhay Garden Scene was the first moving picture made by Louis Le Prince on 14 October 1888. It was filmed in the garden of Roundhay Cottage (now Oakwood Grange), home of his wife's parents, Joseph and Sarah Whitley, in Roundhay, Leeds, Yorkshire. (Cite as "Roundhay Garden Scene, 1888.")
    • Most sources describe the action of the scene as people running around a garden, but to me the foursome appear to be dancing a country dance, possibly called "Oakwood Grand." (My observation from 30+ years of Scottish country dancing, which uses many of the same formations as English country dancing and American contra dancing, though the Grand will likely be revealed as a typo in Baggs for Grange.) Someone — and I don't remember where I read this, but it was in one of the cited sources — misidentifies Annie Hartley (light dress) as Mrs Whitley (dark dress) when describing the motion of her turning. I believe the footage begins as the men are casting into position for a hey, or as SCDers would term it, a reel of four. From the starting positions, there's a hint that the ladies may have just finished advance & retire. /ds
    • His in-laws, his son Adolphe, and a friend, Annie Hartley, appear in the short (2.11 seconds) segment. Roundhay Garden Scene is the earliest moving picture in existence. Sarah Robinson Whitley (1816–1888) died ten days later, at 72. The film was preserved and can be viewed online or, better, in a continuous loop, in Baggs's article.
  • "Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince" accessed 2019.March.09. Biography on Wikipedia. There are links to separate articles on each of the films. (Cite as "Wikipedia, 2019.")

Research Notes

Below are notes for any WikiTree volunteer to use in writing a narrative biography. They are not quotes unless between quotation marks, so it's OK to use my phrasing. Or not. My comments are in square brackets. I've deliberately put the Research Notes below the Sources, so remember to add the ref-/ref-in-angle-brackets coding around the citation. Some tasks need to be completed that are not related to the narrative biography, such as:
• Add/find profiles for his brother and his brother's family. He had one brother, but Rawlence mentions multiple nieces and nephews. This probably needs to be done by someone who reads French.
• Once that's done, add/find profiles for his and his brother's descendants who have died.
• The category tags should be examined by someone who knows how to apply them and what the standard ones are. I think "French notables" covers his work in France, but as an inventor he worked internationally, and he perfected his single lens camera in Leeds. Then he established himself in NYC, where he (and presumably his English wife and children) became American citizens; that's where he envisioned his future. So instead of "French inventor," how 'bout just "inventor"?
• What about his and his wife's grandparents, and their ancestors? Can this be extended until it connects to the world family tree? Or maybe laterally. His wife had at least one brother, too; her brother introduced them. [Typing in edit mode. Can't look to see if this has been done already. /ds]
• What else?

Varma notes (Cite as "Varma, 2019."):

• Acknowledged "pioneer of the motion picture."
• Father an intimate friend of Louis Daguerre (1787-1851), who taught Louis his early lessons in photography.
• 1875 — Louis saw a series of photographs by Eadweard Muybridge in Palo Alto, California, that inspired him to produce a series of photographs to replicate motion.
• Summer of 1888 — Louis commissioned parts for his new camera from woodmaker Frederic Mason.
• Summer of 1888 — in Leeds, hired James Longley, who had worked with him before, as his assistant.
• Summer of 1888 — father-in-law Joseph Whitley, also an inventor, made some of the metalwork for his new camera.
• By 14 October 1888 — Louis had completed two single-lens cameras and photographed a series of pictures at the rate of 12–16 frames per second [speed disputed elsewhere /ds]
• October 1888 — shot three films in Leeds now housed at the National Media Museum, Bradford. Two [garden, accordion /ds] shot 14 October 1888 in Roundhay; third shot on Leeds bridge. [Albert is the accordion player, which means he was in Yorkshire on 14 October 1888, not in Dijon, France, where he lived. /ds]
• 16 [13th elsewhere /ds] September 1890 — Louis in Bourges with friends Mr & Mrs Richard Wilson [his family in NYC /ds]. Left friends there to visit brother [Albert], architect & surveyor, in Dijon.
• 16 September 1890 — last seen [by Albert /ds] entering train for Paris. Intensive searches, no avail. "His disappearance remains a mystery to this day."

Baggs notes (Cite as "Baggs, 2016."):

• 28 August 1841 — Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince born in Metz, France.
• Father major in the French army and close friend of Louis Daguerre, inventor of Daguerrotype process.
• Lessons with Daguerre piqued young Louis's interest in photography.
• Daguerre taught "little Le Prince" photography and chemistry, necessary for photography at the time.
• Later, Le Prince studied painting in Paris and "post-graduate level chemistry at Leipzig University in Germany."
• Met engineer John Whitley & moved to Leeds to work for John's company as a designer.
• Met Elizabeth, John's sister, whom he would marry three years later (1869).
• Started Leeds Technical School of Art with wife Elizabeth. Built reputation for color photography on metal & pottery. Commissions from Queen Victoria & PM Wm Gladstone.
ca 1880 (1881 Wikipedia /ds) — Still working under Whitley, moved w/ family to USA to manage group of French artists "famed for large panoramic paintings of military encounters."
• In USA, developed 16-lens camera in technological race to produce first moving picture.
• First effort moving picture: 16-lens camera. Proved cumbersome. "Nevertheless, this was Le Prince's first patent, which interestingly covered cameras and projectors with as many as 16 lenses."
•1886 — [caption] Le Prince 16-lens camera (interior), 1886, Louis Aime Augustin Le Prince © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA
• May 1887 — Louis & family returned to Leeds. Built new single-lens camera. Solved problem of coordinating sixteen lenses. Sort of. Tackled next problem: projecting results.
• 1888 – first moving image captured Leeds Bridge, location w/ most movement he knew of. (Elsewhere in this article sez garden scene first.)
• Excited to share with Sarah, who was building theatre in their home in NYC [sic, leasing room in Morris Jumel mansion NYC per Harvey] to demonstrate new technology. But first, some family biz in France.
• 1890, early Sept — made way to Bourges to visit friends [sic, per Harvey traveled with Leeds friends, who were spending a few days in Paris]
• 1890 Sept 13 — left friends in Paris (intending to rejoin them before sailing to NYC) to visit brother Albert in Dijon
• 1890 Sept 16 — brother saw him off at Dijoin train station bound for Paris (express train)
• 1890 Sept 16, later — friends meet train, but it arrives without Louis, his luggage, or belongings, and there had been no scheduled stops. No other travelers reported "strange behavior or emergency exits."
• French police, Scotland Yard, Le Prince family all "launched extensive searches and an investigation into his whereabouts."
• 1897 — declared dead in absentia
• Family & friends "claimed foul play for many years, suspecting his competitors."
• 2003 — 1890 photo of drowning victim who could be Louis Le Prince found in Paris police archives [Harvey shows photo in documentary, points out differences with known photos of Louis, particularly in trademark beard style (But he could have grown it out. No record of this, but he might have meant to surprise his wife. Major change for major event, like a woman cutting her long hair. Just sayin'.
• Theories on disappearance: (1 & 2 because of alleged financial difficulty)
1) well planned suicide (Baggs sez "no")
2) well planned disappearance (Baggs sez "no")
3) foul play – fratricide (Baggs sez hmmm, but family in First Film say "no" because whole family, not just brother, saw him off in Dijon) (Baggs also sez "evidence appears to point to the contrary; Le Prince was excited by his new invention and had a profit-making business")
4) foul play – assassination (Baggs sez hmmm, has motive) family suspicious of Thomas Edison (Harvey et al say history sez Edison more likely to fight with litigation than violence).
• After death, war of the patent litigation over Equity 6928. Initial round to Edison. Overturned. Next bout, two years later, maybe would have gone to family, except witness, son Adolphe, "found dead on Fire Island near New York while out hunting ducks."
• Nevertheless, legacy growing, "his recognition finally materializing,"
• "In recent years, Le Prince has been credited with [sic, "as"] the original inventor of the moving picture camera and his genius is finally being appreciated." [or "with the original invention . . .]
• Baggs' sources: The Missing Reel (1990) – Christopher Rawlence; ​Histoire Comparée du Cinéma (1966) – Jaques Deslandes; Histoire du Cinéma (1967) – Jean Mitry; National Media Museum (UK); Wikipedia; YouTube; Department of Journalism & Creative Media, The University of Alabama.


  1. 2016 biography on Wikipedia.

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Categories: Technology | French Inventors | French Notables | Notables