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
Hi Diedre - a real life Agatha Christie tale ... gosh - looks like we will never know .. but what an interesting post ... rivalry at its worst ...ReplyDelete
I thought so too, and can't help wondering just how someone accomplished this - without a trace. I don't have that much faith in magic ;-)
I wholeheartedly agree that competition brings out the worst in people. We saw abundant evidence of that in the recent U.S. presidential election.
Mrs. Shady and I have watched several documentaries about 19th century inventors and entrepreneurs and some were ruthless men who used all sorts of tactics, legal and illegal, to crush their rivals. It seems likely that Le Prince was the victim of foul play in that patent race, the target of a hit man.
Thank you for another fascinating mystery tale stemming from actual events, dear friend Diedre!
Yes sir, we did at that. The patent story sort of demonstrates that the madness didn't only start recently - though I happened on it during the course of researching something altogether different. Historical yes, political - Heavens no ;-)
I always love a good documentary! Grandma used to say I was born to be a student, I think I'm eternally curious.
I'm glad you enjoyed, my friend!
Oh my gosh, that's my grandfather.ReplyDelete
Not really. I imagine he was murdered. People have been killing for money for many a century. I am not up on the history of Thomas Edison. I'm disappointed with the note. I would expect someone who had knowledge of a murder to report it.
What does a man profit if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?
Ha - you gave me a start there, Ann!Delete
True, while it appears that Edison didn't actually do the deed, he did know about it. I share your disappointment, it's never pleasant do discover someone you highly regarded was a stinker.
I love your last line ;-)
I googled Edison's character. It turns out he was a ruthless competitor. Oh double disappointment. He probably had a hand in it, the scoundrel.Delete
This is so crazy. All these inventors we came to know and love as school kids, all seem to have a darker side. I wouldn't put this past Edison as he seemed to be a pretty diabolical sort of guy.ReplyDelete
All for some fleeting recognition.
Thanks for the article, this was VERY interesting reading.
I'd say diabolical is quite apt. Though I spent much of my childhood feeling sorry about his hearing loss - which he refused to remedy for fear the noise of the world would interfere with his inventive genius. Oddly, he maintained an aviary of over 5K birds on his property.
My first inkling that he was actually more like the Wizard of Oz than the Wizard Inventor was when he waged a twenty year war with Nikola Tesla over electric currents after Tesla trounced Edison's direct current with alternating current.
Though not my point with this post, it is as disappointing as it is fascinating to read about some of these historical figures. I'm glad you found it interesting!
What a fascinating story! Prince was likely murdered on the train, then he and his belongings were thrown off, where an accomplice made everything disappear. Disappointing to know that Thomas Edison was privy to this nefarious deed. Have you ever watched the Canadian TV series "Murdoch Mysteries"? (It airs in the U.S. as "The Artful Detective".) It takes place around ~1900 and deals with many such stories, often drawn from actual events.ReplyDelete
I agree, the way you've laid it out seems the most plausible explanation for what in the world happened to the body. Sounds like a regular network of sneaky people, doesn't it?
Thanks for the tip on Murdoch Mysteries/The Artful Detective! Sounds like something I'd greatly enjoy.
Good to see you, Debbie!
"brother murdered him with an elaborate magic trick" That's an interesting theory. I'll go with that. How else can someone go POOF if magic isn't involved? ;)ReplyDelete
Ha ha! That part struck me as well, I wish I could have found out more about his brother ;-)
The irony I see in this story about someone who invented a motion picture camera is that story would make for a great movie script. I've seen some similar stories on film, but I wonder if this has been fictionalized in print or for screen? Love speculating on stories such as this.ReplyDelete
Tossing It Out
I thought so too, and the fact that no body or baggage was ever found made it all the more intriguing for me ;-)
Very intriguing. It sounds like there was probably quite a group of conspirators, especially if whoever was behind it had money. The railway staff could have been bribed to get rid of the body.ReplyDelete
I'm with you, Nick! There had to have been at least a few sinister players in the plot to have gotten away so cleanly. I hadn't thought about the railway staff - highly possible though.Delete