Edison: His Life and Inventions HTML version

Motion Pictures
THE preceding chapters have treated of Edison in various aspects as an inventor, some of
which are familiar to the public, others of which are believed to be in the nature of a
novel revelation, simply because no one had taken the trouble before to put the facts
together. To those who have perhaps grown weary of seeing Edison's name in articles of
a sensational character, it may sound strange to say that, after all, justice has not been
done to his versatile and many-sided nature; and that the mere prosaic facts of his actual
achievement outrun the wildest flights of irrelevant journalistic imagination. Edison hates
nothing more than to be dubbed a genius or played up as a "wizard"; but this fate has
dogged him until he has come at last to resign himself to it with a resentful indignation
only to be appreciated when watching him read the latest full-page Sunday "spread" that
develops a casual conversation into oracular verbosity, and gives to his shrewd surmise
the cast of inspired prophecy.
In other words, Edison's real work has seldom been seriously discussed. Rather has it
been taken as a point of departure into a realm of fancy and romance, where as a relief
from drudgery he is sometimes quite willing to play the pipe if some one will dance to it.
Indeed, the stories woven around his casual suggestions are tame and vapid alongside his
own essays in fiction, probably never to be published, but which show what a real
inventor can do when he cuts loose to create a new heaven and a new earth, unrestrained
by any formal respect for existing conditions of servitude to three dimensions and the
standard elements.
The present chapter, essentially technical in its subject-matter, is perhaps as significant as
any in this biography, because it presents Edison as the Master Impresario of his age, and
maybe of many following ages also. His phonographs and his motion pictures have more
audiences in a week than all the theatres in America in a year. The "Nickelodeon" is the
central fact in modern amusement, and Edison founded it. All that millions know of
music and drama he furnishes; and the whole study of the theatrical managers thus
reaching the masses is not to ascertain the limitations of the new art, but to discover its
boundless possibilities. None of the exuberant versions of things Edison has not done
could endure for a moment with the simple narrative of what he has really done as the
world's new Purveyor of Pleasure. And yet it all depends on the toilful conquest of a
subtle and intricate art. The story of the invention of the phonograph has been told. That
of the evolution of motion pictures follows. It is all one piece of sober, careful analysis,
and stubborn, successful attack on the problem.
The possibility of making a record of animate movement, and subsequently reproducing
it, was predicted long before the actual accomplishment. This, as we have seen, was also
the case with the phonograph, the telephone, and the electric light. As to the phonograph,
the prediction went only so far as the RESULT; the apparent intricacy of the problem
being so great that the MEANS for accomplishing the desired end were seemingly
beyond the grasp of the imagination or the mastery of invention.