Lumière means "light" in French, and therefore should come as no surprise this is the surname of one of the greatest scientific innovators who explored the possibilities of light in motion photography. Claude-Antoine Lumière was born in Ormoy, Haute-Saone, France on March 13, 1840. The son of a winemaker, his privileged childhood came to a sudden and tragic end when his parents succumbed to cholera. To learn a trade, the young man became the apprentice of Parisian sign painter Auguste Constantin. By the age of 20, Mr. Lumière had become an accomplished painter, and married Jeanne-Josephine Costille.
Mr. Lumière then turned his attentions to photography because he believed it was a less time consuming and equally artistic alternative to painting. He and his wife settled in Besancon, where Mr. Lumière opened a photography studio. His family began to expand with the births of sons Auguste on October 19, 1862, Louis on October 5, 1864, and several other children to follow. During the Franco-Prussian War, the family moved to Lyon, where Mr. Lumière opened a portrait painting and photographic supply studio. This modest shack grew into a large and thriving company specializing in photographic plate manufacturing.
Meanwhile, Auguste and Louis Lumière were being educated to join their father in the family business. Young Louis was a talented scientist who at the tender age of 17 invented the "Etiquette Bleue" (Blue Label), gelatin silver-bromide photographic plates that could be manufactured easier and more quickly. An astute businessman, Mr. Lumière instinctively understood the significance of his son's invention, and lent Louis the money to open a manufacturing business in 1883. This small operation, which produced 216,000 plates in its first year grew in less than a decade to manufacturing 4 million plates annually and employed a staff of more than 200 workers. The company expanded to accommodate bromide paper manufacturing, and became the Societe Anonyme des Plaques et Papiers Photographiques Antoine Lumière et ses Fils in 1892. Mr. Lumière turned over company operations to his sons the following year.
During a summer 1894 visit to Paris, Mr. Lumière saw American inventor Thomas Edison demonstrate his patented Kinetoscope, which was the first known peepshow. Mr. Lumière returned to Lyon confident that his sons could improve upon Mr. Edison's box invention. The next year, the Lumières received a patent for the lightweight motion picture camera they named the Cinèmatographe (Cinematograph). In March 1895, they introduced the world to cinema with their fifty-second short film entitled La Sortie des Usines (Workers Leaving the Factory). Surprisingly, however, Mr. Lumière remained skeptical of the Cinematograph's global importance and reportedly told illusionist Georges Mèliès that it was little more than a scientific curiosity, but he foresaw no future for the moving picture machine. Fortunately for the world, his sons did not share his view.
Antoine Lumière died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage on April 15, 1911. His sons continued their photographic experimentation until the mid-twentieth century, writing nearly 250 articles and receiving approximately 350 patents. Eighty-three-year-old Louis Lumière died on June 6, 1948, and Auguste died on April 10, 1954 at the age of 91.
2005 Encyclopedia of Early Cinema (New York: Routledge), p. 570.
2008 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 875-876.
1987 Illustrated History of the Cinema (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company), p. 15.
2008 Inventors and Inventions, Vol. IV (Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Corporation), pp. 1000-1009.
2003 Motion Pictures: Making Cinema Magic (Minneapolis, MN: The Oliver Press), pp. 33-45.
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