Little Bits of History

Lights, Camera, Action

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 23, 2011


April 23, 1867: William E. Lincoln of Providence, Rhode Island receives United States patent #64,117 for the zoetrope, the first animated picture machine. The machine held a series of pictures inside a cylinder that could be viewed between slits while spinning the contraption. This created an illusion of movement. It is the same principle as used in a flip book where the rapidly changing pictures give the illusion of movement of the drawn images.

Today we take motion pictures for granted, but the history of cinema is long. The caves at Grotte de Lascaux in France are the earliest drawings we have left from pre-historic man. These pictures show the concept of illustrated movement for the animals drawn by these early artists. The use of shadow and light as well as perspective, give the idea of movement.

The study of shadow and light was a precursor to the modern use of cameras, still or moving. The earliest lenses used for magnification have been dated to 721-705 BC. There were quartz lenses excavated at the archeological sites of Nineveh which date to 600 BC. The study of light and shadow interplay to give the illusion of movement continued through the ancient Greek, Oriental, and Roman eras.

Leonardo da Vince in 1500 described with accuracy a camera obscura. He did this in his backward writing and it went undiscovered for over 200 years. Throughout the Renaissance, there continued an enlightenment casting its shadow over the interplay of focused light. It was noted that the illusion of movement could be found by a picture painted on each side of disk and then rotating the disk quickly. Stereoscopic pictures, like today’s Viewmaster slides, gave a three-dimensional effect.

Finally pictures could be taken using light focused on film. The time continued to decrease from hours to just minutes. The film changed from a cartridge allowing for a single exposure, to film that could make copies. Then roll film was produced. The first movie that survives is a 3-second view of traffic moving along the street. It is in 20 frames and was taken in October 1888.

“It’s not an optical illusion, it just looks like one.” – Phil White

“Science is simply common sense at its best – that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic.” – Thomas Henry Huxley

“Never fear shadows. They simply mean there is a light shining somewhere nearby.” – unknown

“Our ideals, like pictures, are made from lights and shadows.” – Joseph Joubert

Also on this day:
The Bard of Avon – In 1616 William Shakespeare dies.
Boston Latin School – In 1635, the first public school in America (still open) was founded.

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