Toward the end of the 19th century, Frenchman Louis Le Prince boarded a train in Dijon headed for Paris. A pioneering inventor, he’d taken many trips to America to secure coveted patents on his latest inventions, and planned to return to finalize his patent pending on the first true Moving Picture Camera – before he vanished.
Le Prince was not on the train when it stopped in Paris, nor were any of his belongings. It was as if he’d never boarded in the first place, except that, as a person of notability, people had seen and talked to him. Though the entire train was searched and every passenger questioned, even Scotland Yard was baffled.
There was, however, plenty of speculation. Had Le Prince committed suicide by jumping off the train? Along with all of his belongings? Had his brother murdered him with an elaborate magic trick? Had his family requested his disappearance due to financial difficulties? Those in the industry had different ideas.
The competition was fierce in the cinematography field and none more so than one American trailblazer who actively obstructed every U.S. patent Le Prince ever sought. In return, Le Prince assisted in the sharing of pertinent information belonging to the trailblazer to a highly interested group of European patent seekers.
Consequently, with Le Prince out of the picture (no pun intended), the American trailblazer got the pending patent and possibly many more that might have belonged to Le Prince. Nonetheless, the trailblazer undeniably made quite a name for himself with prior and subsequent inventions of his own; which the world still appreciates today, but eventually Le Prince was all but forgotten.
Until 2008, when a graduate student perusing a timeworn book by Thomas Edison on motion picture history in the New York Library archives found this astonishing handwritten note in the pages, dated September 20, 1890:
“Eric called me today from Dijon. It has been done. Prince is no more. This is good news, but I flinched when he told me. Murder is not my thing. I am an inventor and my inventions for moving images can now move forward.”
What do you think happened to Louis Le Prince?
"Competition brings out the best in products and the worst in people." - David Sarnoff, Pioneer of American Commercial Radio and TV