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C. Francis Jenkins, Pioneer of Film and Television

C. Francis Jenkins, Pioneer of Film and Television

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    C. Francis Jenkins, Pioneer of Film and Television
    Book Description:

    This is the first biography of the important but long-forgotten American inventor Charles Francis Jenkins (1867-1934). Historian Donald G. Godfrey documents the life of Jenkins from his childhood in Indiana and early life in the West to his work as a prolific inventor whose productivity was cut short by an early death. Jenkins was an inventor who made a difference. As one of America's greatest independent inventors, Jenkins's passion was inventing to meet the needs of his day and the future. When he was away from home for the first time, he struggled to describe to his family the beauty of the Western vistas he saw. Early photography allowed him to share his experiences, but the results showed him both its imperfections and its potential. As an inventor he constantly struggled to improve means of transmitting images, first via film, and later via television. In 1895 Jenkins produced the first film projector able to show a motion picture on a large screen, coincidentally igniting the first film boycott among his Quaker viewers when the film he screened showed a woman's ankle. Jenkins produced the first American television pictures in 1923, and developed the only fully operating broadcast television station in Washington, D.C. transmitting to ham operators from coast to coast as well as programming for his local audience. Jenkins's inventiveness was not limited to mechanical and electronic production of images. His diverse patents include optics, airplane engines, an automobile, and a sanitary milk carton. He also founded the organization now known as the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers. Godfrey's biography raises the profile of C. Francis Jenkins from his former place in the footnotes to his rightful position as a true pioneer of today's film and television. Along the way, it provides a window into the earliest days of both motion pictures and television as well as the now-vanished world of the independent inventor.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09615-0
    Subjects: History, Technology, Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Prologue
    (pp. 1-2)

    It all started with an inquisitive young mind on the American frontier of the late 1880s. Charles Francis Jenkins was a teenager when he left home to work in the lumber and mining industries of the West. His midwestern Indiana family had a hard time imagining the beauty of what their young traveler described—the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Ocean, the Southwest Sonoran desert—and Jenkins wanted to share. This challenge set his mind to working. Photography at the time was awkward, still-camera technology.

    Jenkins’ inventions would capture motion and project it onto a large screen. He premiered his film...

  6. 1 Jenkins’ Heritage and Youth
    (pp. 3-14)

    Today’s world is predicated on the inventive ingenuity of those who preceded us. Imagine life without the movies, television, telephone, airplanes, or automobiles. The twentieth century added those things and more into our lives. The inventors of past centuries, including Charles Francis Jenkins, made these things possible. They worked as independents and often clashed with established industry giants, as Jenkins did. It was challenging for lone inventors to make a living, fund their work, and promote acceptance of a new device, and Jenkins had to meet each of these challenges. He was brilliant, gifted, mechanically inclined, and intuitive. His life...

  7. 2 Early Film Experiments
    (pp. 15-22)

    The large-screen projector and the concept of intermittent motion remain Jenkins’ most lasting contributions to the industries of film and motion pictures in television. His projector was the first to freeze a frame of film for a fraction of a second, as it flowed past the lamp and lens of the projector. It is a recognition that he would begrudgingly share with Thomas Armat, but its roots begin with Charles Francis Jenkins.

    The late 1870s into the early 1900s was a time of growing industrial opportunity, contrasted with what critics and historians have described as a time of “conspicuous waste,...

  8. 3 A Lifetime of Struggle
    (pp. 23-50)

    It is easy to romanticize a man like Charles Francis Jenkins—born into an age of discovery, traveling out West, seeing the creation of inventions that are taken for granted today. He was acquainted with the likes of Alexander Graham Bell in his time. Nevertheless, Jenkins’ life was not without controversy. He was challenged by his competitors and critics. The most significant of these was Thomas J. Armat, who partnered with him for a short period of time and then moved on to create the Armat Moving-Picture Company, making millions and giving Jenkins a lifetime of aggravation. The controversy cannot...

  9. 4 Jenkins’ Motion Pictures
    (pp. 51-68)

    C. Francis Jenkins was a forward thinker. He loved travel and photography, which were constants throughout his life. He was a skilled writer and promoter, which helped him attract financing. Despite losing in the early battle with Armat, he boldly declared himself the inventor of the motion-picture projector. It was a line that regularly caught press attention and helped attract potential financial backers. He marketed his own ideas and financed them, often with little money, and at times with only hope and speculation. He was a multitasking individual open to new lines of endeavor. “Failure,” he told Alexander Graham Bell,...

  10. 5 Founding the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers
    (pp. 69-76)

    There is little doubt that among the most significant and lasting contributions C. Francis Jenkins made in the film and television industries was the formation of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers (SMPE). In 1950, “television” was added, making the organization the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE). In less than four decades, the SMPTE would become an international association with industry, technological, and creative influence around the globe.

    The foundation of the SMPE comes straight out of the weaning years of the Industrial and Gilded Ages. It helped guide film from an awkward novelty into a technology...

  11. 6 Visionary Entrepreneur
    (pp. 77-94)

    The motto on Jenkins’ laboratory desk for years read, “If a thing is very difficult, it is as good as accomplished; if it is impossible, it will take a little more time.”¹ Jenkins was forever optimistic. He took his inspiration from needs that surrounded him, merging new ideas with technology. He branched out whenever the need put his mind to work. He responded to the demands of the time, and from the profits of his labors he was able to support his primary interests in film and television technology. Until the late 1920s, he had no significant outside corporate sponsors,...

  12. 7 RadioVision: The Genesis and Promotion
    (pp. 95-106)

    RadioVision, as Jenkins initially perceived it, would be as an instrument of industry and government communication through the wireless transmission of photographs and text messages. In basic form, this was an idea dating back to the turn of the century, but with primarily wire transmissions.¹ Jenkins centered his efforts on “the development of radio-transmitted pictures, an address to the eye; while others have been developing radio-transmitted speech, addressed to the ear.”² His RadioVision evolved into a system for transmitting still pictures, maps, messages, and eventually into an early form of televised motion entertainment.

    This effort materialized during the Roaring Twenties...

  13. 8 Radio Pictures: Going Operational
    (pp. 107-120)

    Jenkins’ private demonstrations of RadioVision and the transmitted photographs of public figures produced volumes of publicity. By 1922, evenScientific Americanwas on board, foreseeing a distinguished future: “it is obvious that we already have broadcasting concerts and opera [on radio], there is no reason why we should not . . . broadcast an entire theatrical or operatic performance.” While the publicity produced anticipation for home theaters, available technology was not yet close to approaching that goal.¹

    The earliest “official demonstration,” as Jenkins called it, took place on December 12, 1922.² He transmitted still pictures between his lab and the...

  14. 9 Television: Seeing by Electricity
    (pp. 121-134)

    The wordtelevisionfirst appeared in France in 1907. It simply meant “vision,” bridging large distances. In Jenkins’ writings, it does not appear until around 1925.¹ The word and the work evolved over time, with inventors borrowing from Industrial Age telegraphy and the telephone. The prefixteleortelmeans “at a distance,” hencetele-visionwas “seeing over a distance,” or bridging those distances.² Applications of the term unfolded with each new apparatus, application, and inventor. The name was often both descriptive and a market-branding tag. By the mid-1920s, Jenkins’ definition was focused primarily on “wireless motion pictures in the...

  15. 10 The Eyes of Radio
    (pp. 135-148)

    Long before other television pioneers would make their works public, Jenkins was already there. He successfully broadcast still pictures for a variety of military and industrial uses and transmitted motion pictures to an excited audience of ham operators. He had turned his attention to the greater market for his inventive potential—television for the home. In 1925, Jenkins would begin his first experimental television station3XK (later W3XK-TV) in Washington, D.C. It was among the first licensed experimental television stations in the United States. Jenkins envisioned that it would follow patterns established in the growth of commercial radio. A station...

  16. 11 The Jenkins Television Corporation
    (pp. 149-168)

    The years 1926 through 1930 were perhaps the best for Jenkins and his Jenkins Laboratories. Initially, he had all of the essentials for success—except investment capital to manufacture in quantity. The audience for his television station in Washington, D.C., was growing. He had a variety of television-receiver kits for sale. He enjoyed voluminous publicity from his experiments and demonstrations. He had aggressive plans for future growth. He still dominated the industry in terms of patents and saw significant potential from future licensing royalties. His position was dominant in synchronization, particularly the transmission of pictures and sound. He controlled patented...

  17. 12 American Visionary
    (pp. 169-180)

    Charles Francis Jenkins was an important inventor who created breakthrough turning points in two major industries—film and television. He was always forging across traditional boundaries and looking for new ways to bring things together. He was a versatile inventor and a workaholic who seldom stopped to rest. He never gave up. In film, he sold his controversial Phantoscope projector patent, which led to large-screen movie projection, and he watched motion-picture theaters grow into a billion-dollar industry.¹ His diversified interests included the automobile, and “in 1898 he scared the wits out of [congressional] representatives’ horses . . . driving a...

  18. Epilogue
    (pp. 181-184)

    History is not preordained; there are alternatives that might have been. What if Jenkins had been given a stronger management role in the Jenkins Television Corporation and the overall De Forest organization? His reputation was one of inspiration and strong leadership. But he was theirideaman, not fully integrated into the overall management-decision circles. The new corporate management wanted his vision and his highly marketable name, but they were profit-driven investors, not futuristic dreamers. The dreamer remained primarily in his lab. It would be an error to view Jenkins as a victim. In the early stages of the corporate...

  19. Appendix A U.S. Patents Issued to C. Francis Jenkins
    (pp. 185-192)
  20. Appendix B Selected Jenkins Patents Referenced in Modern Patent Applications
    (pp. 193-194)
  21. Notes
    (pp. 195-264)
  22. A Selected Research Bibliography
    (pp. 265-278)
  23. Index
    (pp. 279-284)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 285-290)