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Robert Paul and the Origins of British Cinema$

Ian Christie

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780226105628

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226610115.001.0001

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An Engineer’s Education

(p.35) Chapter 2 Flashback
Robert Paul and the Origins of British Cinema

Ian Christie

University of Chicago Press

Abstract and Keywords

Robert Paul was the oldest of five children, born to a London shipping agent and a clergyman’s daughter in Islington in 1869. The family moved around London, while Robert seems to have been the only one to benefit from a public school education at the City of London, which was also among the first in Britain to offer science. He progressed to a new college, the Finsbury Technical, bringing him into contact with electrical pioneers such as Silvanus Thompson and William Ayrton, who would help him start in business on his own account in 1891, repairing and soon inventing instruments for the emerging electricity industry. By the end of 1895, both Paul and his former associate Acres were at work developing projectors that functioned like magic lanterns, throwing moving pictures on a screen. Paul premiered his Theatrograph in February 1896 on the same day as the first Lumière Cinématographe demonstration in London. Another of his shows led to Paul being hired to screen a programme at Olympia, soon followed by his projector appearing at the Egyptian Hall on Piccadilly, and then at the Alhambra music hall, next door to the Cinématographe at the Empire, both in Leicester Square.

Keywords:   City of London School, Silvanus Thompson, William Ayrton, Theatrograph, Olympia, Egyptian Hall, Alhambra, cinematographe

If Paul was briefly beguiled by the idea of a “time machine,” he was guided by logic in discerning the limitations of the Kinetoscope’s single-viewer model and seeking to move beyond it, and was soon at work on creating a lantern-based projection system. In fact, he was the only one among the pioneers—Edison, Acres, Lumière—who would directly engage in “theatrical” (as it is still called in the film industry) exhibition, distribution, and production, all within a matter of weeks in mid-1896.1 Yet he has remained a surprisingly shadowy, little-known figure. In one of his letters to Oskar Messter in 1935, he admitted to being “rather averse to personal publicity.” So averse, that he left no personal or company papers, and his family background has proved barely traceable. But we can place him professionally near the center of a technological revolution that began before moving pictures with the new science of electricity. And this is what gave him the skills, and no doubt the confidence and early financial security, to pursue the new opportunities the Kinetoscope offered.

An Elusive Family

What little is currently known about Robert William Paul’s personal life comes from two main sources, other than the obituaries that followed his death in 1943. One is the routine documentation that records his birth, marriage, and death, supplemented by two census returns from 1901 and 1911, some street directory entries, and a bare handful of letters. The other, more tantalizingly, is an unpublished manuscript by a friend of Paul and his wife that seems to have been begun in the 1950s and reworked until as late as 1996.2 Irene Codd claimed that “Mr and Mrs Paul were friends of my parents and he was a scientific colleague of my late father,” and although her text incorporates unacknowledged material from other sources, it includes some anecdotes and observations that are undoubtedly (p.36)

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8. Albion Road, Islington, where Paul was born in 1869. These houses, opposite the site of Paul’s birthplace, retain the original character of this North London street, near Highbury Corner.

Photo: Ian Christie.

based on firsthand acquaintance with the Pauls.3 In the absence of other sources, these provide a valuable extension of the bare record of Ellen’s and Robert’s lives together.

Robert William Paul was born on 3 October 1869 at 3 Albion Road in North London, the first child of George Butler Paul and Elizabeth Jane Lyon.4 The birth certificate records George Paul’s occupation as “merchant clerk.” He would later be described as a shipowner, but there do not appear to be any records of ships being owned until 1898. Six small merchant ships were registered as belonging to “Paul and Shellshear” between 1898 and 1907, but even if he was not an owner, he was certainly involved in the shipping business during the intervening years. One obituary of Robert referred to him “travelling the world” on his father’s ships (p.37) as a boy or young man, hinting at what his friends may have known that is now otherwise unverifiable. However, the fact that he later traveled to Sweden and more than once to Norway fits well with George Paul’s coming from Lincolnshire, near the port of Hull, and his known ships apparently being involved in the Baltic trade.5

Elizabeth Lyon was born in France, to British parents, in 1842. Her father appears to have been a clergyman and the family to have originated from Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Soon after Robert’s birth, in a street near the busy junction of Highbury Corner in Islington, the family was on the move. Their next child, Arthur, was born at Stratford in East London in 1873, and by 1901 was a ships’ stores dealer, apparently having entered his father’s business. A third son, George, followed in 1877 and is listed as a shipowner’s clerk in the 1901 census. Between these sons came the family’s first daughter, Elizabeth, whose birth took place in Newcastle in 1875, suggesting that her mother might have been staying with her own family.

The Paul family was living in Stratford, on the eastern margin of London, for at least part of the 1870s, in an area that had been agricultural before Victorian planning legislation banned “dangerous and noxious industries” from the city, and made it a center of industry and engineering. In 1886 the Times referred to it as “London over the border” and described the area’s new character:

Factory after factory was erected on the marshy wastes of Stratford and Plaistow, and it only required the construction at Canning Town of the Victoria and Albert Docks to make the once desolate parish of West Ham a manufacturing and commercial centre of the first importance and to bring upon it a teeming and an industrious population.6

The Pauls’ last child, Alice, was born back in London in 1880, in “Stamp-ford Hill,” presumably what is known today as Stamford Hill.7 By 1901 Robert’s parents were living in Loughton, on the edge of Epping Forest, and it was here that his mother died in 1906. Did this location mean they were prospering? Loughton had a dual reputation: as a genteel area from where city folk could easily reach their businesses in London and, after the coming of the railways, as a popular resort for Cockneys in search of a cheap day out—known as “Lousy Loughton” due to the lice and fleas these trippers brought. From 1881 the Ragged School organized trips for deprived London children to Loughton. It was also known as a staunch nonconformist area, although there is no evidence of the family having (p.38)

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9. Paul entered the City of London School in 1883, the year that its new building opened on Victoria Embankment.

had any religious affiliation. Despite this, there were recurrent suggestions that Paul was Jewish, apparently based only on his appearance. An apprentice recalled him being “of obvious Jewish extraction.”8

Both Robert and his father prospered during the 1890s, while the younger sons seem to have fared rather less well, apparently not having benefited from Robert’s level of education. Both Arthur and George served with the elite City Imperial Volunteer regiment after the Anglo-Boer War broke out in 1899. They survived, and were presumably back in England in time for the 1901 census. Did either of them serve again, during the Great War? Did their health suffer from being on the Cape, or later on the Western Front, or from the great influenza epidemic of 1918–1919, which killed as many as the war had? There is no way of knowing. George died in 1919 in Bournemouth, aged forty-two, recorded as a retired bank clerk of “no fixed residence.” His brother Arthur was “in attendance,” but he would die only three years later, aged fifty, in Coventry, leaving a widow. Arthur is described as a typewriter salesman on his death certificate, so neither of the younger brothers had stayed in the shipping business. Their father would outlive both, not dying until 1930, and leaving a substantial fortune. The last we hear of the daughters is a provision for some legacies in Robert Paul’s will.

As the eldest son, Robert seems to have benefited from a better education than his parents or his siblings. He entered the City of London (p.39) School at the age of sixteen, in 1883, when this unusual public school—which admitted nonconformists and Jews—had recently moved from Cheapside into a new building on Victoria Embankment.9 Here he had a rare opportunity to study science at the first secondary school in Britain to introduce this subject, alongside the traditional academic subjects. It can hardly be accidental that one of his first films, Blackfriars Bridge (1896), is taken from an angle that shows the imposing City of London School building in the background. From the City of London, he would progress to the newly established Finsbury Technical College in 1885, where in his second year he was “elected Senior Student after passing the College course in [the] Electrical Engineering Department” and won a prize.10 The same note records that he had “accepted the position of works manager to the firm of Macdonald and Co, manufacturing electricians of Bow.” In the following two years, Paul would pass rapidly through a number of companies. According to Irene Codd, this was in spite of his father’s wish that he should follow him into the shipping business, as his brothers would do, at least temporarily. Despite paternal opposition, Paul had clearly glimpsed an exciting new prospect in electrical engineering—little realizing that it would lead to a pioneering role in an even newer industry.

Electrical Invention

Electricity had, by the mid-1880s, become the most exciting technology of the late Victorian world. Building on the foundational research into electromagnetism of Humphrey Davy and Michael Faraday at the Royal Institution, carried on by William Thomson, later to become Lord Kelvin, inventors had begun to harness the power of electricity. Telegraphy was the initial main field of application, and signals were sent through the first successful transatlantic submarine cable in 1858, using a mirror galvanometer invented by Thompson that could record minute variations in current. This cable would prove short-lived, and regular transatlantic telegraphy was not reestablished until 1866, when Thompson produced a further device, the siphon recorder, later followed by the automatic curb sender, which became the standard means of sending submarine cable messages.11

Faraday’s work on the measurement of electrical current had led to a series of instruments, initially intended for experimentation but soon proving to have practical and commercial potential. Little wonder that Paul, as part of the first generation of trained electrical engineers, would (p.40) revere Faraday and make a major contribution to the 1931 centenary celebration of his discovery of electromagnetic induction.12 In the 1860s and 1870s, what would later be called “technology” was still intertwined with “natural philosophy” and science, with Thomson being drawn into engineering by the onward rush of electrical innovation. Ever more sensitive and specialized forms of measurement were needed, both for the laboratory and for emerging electrical industries; hence the new profession of electrical instrument making.

The other great application of electricity, which had perhaps more immediate public impact than telegraphy, was in lighting. There had been experiments with incandescent electric lighting in the 1840s, but in 1878 Edison made it his main priority after the Phonograph, and the following year succeeded in encasing a carbon filament within an evacuated glass container—the prototype of the modern lightbulb. As with most “inventions,” there were competing claims to priority—in the case of the light-bulb, J. H. Swan and C. H. Stearn in England—but increasingly Edison’s name would prevail in the popular mind. This was partly due to his assiduous and inspired cultivation of the press, but also to his various companies making use of the many exhibitions in Europe and the United States that thrived on displaying innovation. Edison’s electric lighting and distribution systems were on show at the International Electrical Exposition in Paris in the summer of 1881, where “the completeness of its conception made a profound impression on the foremost European electrical engineers of that era.”13 In the following year, London’s International Electric and Gas Exhibition—housed in the re-erected Great Exhibition building known as Crystal Palace—featured an even greater range of Edison inventions, including

the steam dynamo; specimens of street pipes and service boxes used in the Edison underground system of conductors, and the system of house conductors with devices for preventing abnormal increase of energy in house circuits; apparatus for measuring the resistance of his lamps, for measuring the energy consumed in lamps, and rheostats for restoring currents; also thermogalvanometers, carbon rheostats, dynamometers, photometers, carbon regulators, Weber meters, current regulators, and circuit breakers for controlling electric light circuits … the carbon telephone, the musical telephonograph, telephone repeater, and numerous apparatus for demonstrating the method of varying the resistance of a closed circuit by contact with carbon, illustrative of the experimental factors of the Edison carbon transmitter. Incandescent lamps, the process of the manufacture of lamps, and various designs of electric light chandeliers14

(p.41) Edison had created the first public electricity supply station in New York in 1881, and a similar station opened in London in 1882, located in the basement of a house in Holborn Viaduct and powered by the “Jumbo” turbine. Companies were being created to bring electric lighting to individual districts, while Edison’s staff and agents were seeking opportunities for public display.

It was a time when “all electrical invention seemed to be made,” as another veteran of this period later recalled.15 Hugo Hirst had come to England from Germany at the end of the 1870s, and began working for the newly created Electrical Power Storage Company in London in 1881. He remembered the general public ignorance as to what electricity was, and such stunts as fitting up the Gaiety Theatre “for no payment but simply to have the advertisement for what the accumulators could do.” He also told of starting to work for the Manchester Gas Lighting Company in London, when the Electrical Power Storage Company “inevitably” went into liquidation, and of being advised not to go to Australia on the company’s behalf in 1883 because “there will be more electricity within four miles of Charing Cross than in the whole of Australia.”16 There would indeed be more electricity, and much need for a new generation of skilled electrical workers—although this was only one factor contributing to a widely perceived crisis in British science and industry.

The country that had engaged with modern technologies earlier than any other, adopting innovations in mining, metals, textiles, and transport during the later eighteenth century, began to realize that it had fallen behind other nations precisely in these fields where it had once led. Charles Babbage’s Reflections on the Decline of Science in England, based on his difficulty finding support to develop the earliest form of computer, the “difference engine” in 1830, helped to launch a national debate. And the same theme returned after the Great Exhibition, when Lyon Playfair and T. H. Huxley urged that technological development merited not only a permanent display but the establishment of a college devoted to technical education on its site.17 Sixteen years later, the debate had a new urgency, when British’s performance at the 1867 Paris exposition was judged a national disgrace after, according to John Scott Russell, “we were beaten, not on some points, but by some nation or another at nearly all those points on which we had prided ourselves.”18 A Royal Commission investigated scientific education in schools in 1871, and congratulated Rugby on being the first among Britain’s elite public schools to offer science classes, while concluding that technical education was better managed in many other countries.19 But perhaps the decisive impetus came from a speech by William Gladstone in 1875, when he called on the traditional London (p.42)

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10. Finsbury Technical College, the first of its kind in Britain, opened its Leonard Street premises in 1893, where Paul would demonstrate the Theatrograph three years later.

craft guilds to regain their original purpose of developing the “crafts, trades and ‘mysteries,’” rather than survive as mere ceremonial bodies.20 With the prospect of further inquiry into their activities and considerable wealth, the guilds came together to form the City and Guilds of London Institute for the Advancement of Technical Education in 1878. This led to the creation of two major new institutions: Finsbury Technical College, located near the City, and the Central Institution, established in South Kensington on the former Great Exhibition site, which would eventually (p.43) become, after several amalgamations, the modern Imperial College of Science and Technology.21

The first director of the new institute, Philip Magnus, was a part-time rabbi when he began the task of forming the new colleges, but he had also studied the German vocational education system, which was widely considered superior to any provision in Britain. Among the first professors he secured for Finsbury were Henry Armstrong, a former student at the (privately run) Royal College of Chemistry, and William Ayrton, an electrical engineer who would become Robert Paul’s first mentor and patron. In the absence of any insight into the young Robert Paul’s motivation, it may be useful to consider the better-documented route taken by one of his near-contemporaries at the college, who would also become a notable instrument maker.

William Taylor was born in 1865 in Hackney, to parents of modest though respectable status, and from early childhood showed great mechanical ability.22 Learning from the village blacksmith and local wheelwright, and from articles in the Edinburgh Encyclopedia by Sir David Brewster, inventor of the kaleidoscope and a version of the stereoscope, William and his brother set up their own workshop, where they improvised “a pair of the first telephones ever made in England and one of the first copies of Edison’s Tinfoil Phonograph” (a reminder that copying one of Edison’s “inventions” had launched other careers). The boys were lucky to attend Cowper Street School, Finsbury, where Dr. Richard Wormald was already implementing the Devonshire Commission’s call for more science education, and William acted as a demonstrator for his teacher before going on to become one of the first students at Finsbury Technical College in 1879. At this point Taylor’s path becomes strikingly similar to Paul’s. After leaving the college, he was apprenticed to Paterson and Cooper, where he worked on the fixed-coil ammeter designed by his former professors Ayrton and John Perry in 1883—anticipating the Ayrton-Mather moving-coil galvanometer that Paul would manufacture from 1891.

The company in Bow that Paul joined as works manager must have been Coates and Macdonald, from which Hugo Hirst and his new General Electric Apparatus Company bought their switches.23 But he cannot have stayed long, since we know he also worked at two other important companies in the electrical field: Elliott Brothers and the Bell Telephone Manufacturing Company in Antwerp, Belgium. Elliotts had been in Central London, in St. Martin’s Lane, for nearly a hundred years, making mathematical and traditional scientific instruments, before moving into (p.44) electrical instruments for telegraphy and the other new applications. No doubt the company would have wanted Paul’s up-to-date expertise, and perhaps his continuing contacts with Ayrton, Perry, and Thomas Mather. Interestingly, Elliott Brothers would move from St. Martin’s Lane to what was then a greenfield site in Lewisham, Kent, building its large new Century works the same year Paul acquired land in North London for the expansion of his filmmaking business.24

We have no detail or chronology for Paul’s employment with Coates and Macdonald, Elliott Brothers, or the recently established Belgian branch of America’s Bell Telephone Company.25 Since he established his own company in 1891, he cannot have spent more than about thirty months at these companies, which suggests that his aim was to gain experience rather than make a career with any of them. Irene Codd provides some interesting and plausible personal background to this period. Apparently the twenty-one-year-old Paul suffered from looking too young for the level of responsibility he had acquired, which led him to grow the “little square beard that he wore all his life.” More importantly, she reveals that Paul had a major falling out with his father, who again asked him to join the shipping business and refused to back his son’s proposed electrical instrument company. According to Codd, Robert met another shipowner, a Mr. Knight, who offered to support the venture by buying him secondhand machine tools and helping to find premises. Their search led to the Robert W. Paul Instrument Company being launched on the second floor of 44 Hatton Garden.

A New Industry

Paul’s fledgling company must have depended heavily on his prior contacts in a still-new arena, and Codd describes him initially doing the rounds in search of repair work. Nor was he alone, as Hirst’s reminiscences of the early electrical business make clear. There were others willing to take a risk in this exciting new field, which was clearly on the brink of huge expansion as electricity started to become a part of everyday life in Britain. The new industry needed instruments, to measure and control power supply and to regulate many kinds of installation, from public lighting to workshops, factories, and transport systems.

A struggle was still raging between supporters of direct and alternating current, conveniently known as DC and AC. This battle can be, and often has been, dramatized as between Edison and the Nikola Tesla—with Edison painted as a ruthless promoter of DC, even to the point of damning AC by simulating the electric chair in an early film and actually (p.45) filming the electrocution of an elephant.26 Tesla, by contrast, is often cast as a true scientist and visionary, hampered and persecuted by Edison—and portrayed as a kind of magician, spectacularly by David Bowie in Christopher Nolan’s 2006 film The Prestige.27

The reality, of course, was more complex, with scientific and industrial considerations ranged on both sides of what was indisputably a contest. While alternating current, which periodically changes polarity between positive and negative, is highly suited to widespread distribution and eventually became the basis of most supply systems, its higher voltage makes it theoretically more dangerous and less suited to many applications requiring a steady direct current. In practice, the same insulation precautions are needed for any high-voltage systems; AC, however, has an advantage in that it can be “transformed” down to the power levels needed for, especially, domestic purposes. Edison’s campaign for DC was in defense of his patents and the large revenue they were starting to return; but after Tesla’s series of demonstrations and patent successes in the late 1880s, the tide began to turn. AC was widely adopted after the industrialist George Westinghouse acquired Tesla’s patents, and its victory was confirmed by the decision to use it for the Niagara Falls generating plant in 1893.

This wider background should help us keep the early business of moving pictures in proportion. Buildings and whole districts being lit by electricity was undoubtedly a larger drama in most people’s lives that the arrival of “living pictures.” And yet, through the name of Edison—already synonymous with technological wizardry and with the application of electricity—moving pictures came to be associated with the electrical revolution. Edison’s Kinetoscope was battery-operated, which fact made it problematic, according to Paul, “due to the difficulty, at that time, of recharging its accumulators.”28 Ironically, the next development in moving pictures would not be electrical, since Paul’s, Acres’s, and the Lumières’ projectors were all at first hand-cranked. Nor did they require electric illumination, since gas was usually preferred in the 1890s and early 1900s, although the electric arc would later be used in larger halls that needed a more intense light source.

Mentors and Patents

Several of Paul’s teachers at Finsbury Technical College were leading players in the “current wars” of the 1890s and were also involved in the many legal battles over patents that accompanied the electrical revolution. At a time when academic posts in science were still rare, their (p.46)

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11. William Ayrton, first professor of physics and telegraphy at Finsbury Technical College, had introduced electrical studies to Japan in the 1870s.

Paul would produce instruments designed by him in the 1890s.

experience before coming to the City and Guilds’ colleges was varied. One of the college’s founding professors, William Ayrton (1847–1908), had studied under Thomson in Glasgow before going to work for the Indian telegraph department in 1868 and spending five years in Bengal. After a year with the Great Western Railway, he became the first professor of natural philosophy and telegraphy—an oddly compound title that reflects the transition in science then underway—at the Imperial Engineering College in Tokyo. While there, he introduced electric arc lighting to Japan and helped educate the generation that would launch many of Japan’s new electrically based industries, including Ichisuke Fujioka and (p.47) Shoichi Miyoshi, the founders of the Tokyo Electric Company, later to form part of Toshiba. He also formed a lasting professional partnership with another guest professor, the engineer John Perry, which would continue when they both arrived at Finsbury Technical College in 1881.

Like Thomson, Ayrton and Perry did not hesitate to involve themselves in issues of the day, such as high-voltage power transmission, and practical applications, including railway electrification and the electric tricycle. Ayrton also continued Thomson’s concern with measurement and devised a series of instruments, which ex-students of the college, such as Taylor and Paul, would bring to market. The first of these was a series of ammeters, to measure the flow of current, which began with a permanent-magnet model in 1880, followed by the magnifying-spring model in 1883, both designed with Perry. They would also design a dynamometer and a wattmeter, and in 1891, Ayrton and another Finsbury colleague, Thomas Mather, designed a galvanometer, which measured current on a scale—a requirement brought about by the increasing use of large currents in lighting systems.29 It was this that Robert Paul’s new company produced and began to market, using modern manufacturing methods.30 Later, Paul would contribute to this tradition by creating what has been described as his own “masterpiece” of instrument design, the unipivot galvanometer, but in 1891 the Ayrton-Mather galvanometer must have helped draw attention to the new firm, emphasizing Paul’s continuing links with leading figures in the electrical world.

The other key figure at the college with whom Paul remained in contact was Sylvanus Thompson, who arrived as the new principal in 1885, the year Paul started. Thompson was a prolific and extrovert character, whose lasting legacy was as an inspiring teacher and popularizer of science. A Quaker and pacifist, his early education was in classics, but after attending a lecture by Sir William Crookes in 1876 he was inspired to take up science and became a lecturer in physics at the newly founded University College of Bristol, and eventually its first professor of physics.31 However, his love of teaching, especially young people and lay audiences, and desire for a more practical environment, drew him to Finsbury Technical College, where he remained until his death in 1916. Once there, he threw himself into organizing an unusual, intensive curriculum for its two main types of student:

Apprentices, journeymen and foremen who desire to receive supplementary instruction in the art and practice, and in the theory and principles of science, connected with the industry with which they are engaged. (p.48) Pupils from middle-class and other schools who are preparing for the higher scientific and technical courses of instruction to be pursued at the Central Institution.32

We do not know whether Paul entered as an “apprentice” or a “pupil from a middle-class school,” or as one of Finsbury’s anomalous students—who would include Bertha Marks, a Cambridge graduate frustrated by limitations placed on women in the traditional universities. Marks studied with Ayrton before becoming his second wife in 1885 and going on to a distinguished scientific career in her own right.

It was indeed a time of opportunity, with new possibilities for class mobility and enterprise, but as Hugo Hirst recalled, explaining how he kept his social and business life separate, “It was simply awful in those days to be a shopkeeper.”33 The Finsbury College Old Students Association would doubtless have stood Paul in good social stead, and in 1890 he became an associate member of the newly formed Institute of Electrical Engineers, of which Sylvanus Thompson became president in 1899.34

Thompson was a vociferous controversialist, unafraid to enter any scientific domain. He was quick to take up new discoveries, such as X-rays and radioactivity, and was active as an inventor, with contributions to the telephone and a system of electric traction for tramcars. However, his improved telephone was eventually challenged by Edison’s lawyers and his patent disallowed on a disputed term.35 Ayrton would have similar experiences, appearing as an expert witness in many suits and countersuits relating to electrical patents. Such activities by his recent teachers would certainly have been familiar to Paul, and must have given him a working knowledge of the complex and often bitterly contested field of patents in new technology, even before his involvement with the Kinetoscope and with Acres.36

Thompson’s wide interests and passion for popularizing science led him to give the traditional Royal Institution Christmas Lectures on two occasions, and for one at least Paul helped.37 He recalled filming for Thompson

hundreds of diagrams, illustrating lines of force in changing magnetic fields [which] we converted into animated pictures by the one-turn one-picture camera which we had employed for animated cartoons.38

This is in fact the only indication we have that Paul’s studio ever made animated cartoons. But as well as working with Thompson, he had filmed “pictures of sound wave ‘shadows’ and falling drops” for two well-known (p.49)

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12. Hatton Garden, where Paul started his electrical instrument business in 1891, photographed in the same decade. Now the center of London’s diamond and jewelry business, the street then had a more varied character. Hiram Maxim, who invented the machine gun in 1881, was a near neighbor of Paul’s. And the long-established instrument maker Short and Mason, specialists in barometers and compasses, was at number 40.

Photo courtesy of London Metropolitan Archives.

scientists, C. V. Boys and A. M. Worthington (discussed further in chapter 10). The former remains famous for his classic study of the physics of soap bubbles, and the latter for an 1894 lecture on “The Splash of a Drop and Allied Phenomena,” which was illustrated with some early instantaneous photographs.39 Both continued to experiment and seek more instantaneous forms of photography to record ballistic and splash phenomena, and it is possible that Paul’s film frames have circulated anonymously in the documentation of their work.40

Hatton Garden

Paul’s new company was based at 44 Hatton Garden, a distinctive thoroughfare off Holborn, then with a dense mixture of small manufacturers and retailers, now all but monopolized by the diamond and jewelry (p.50) business. Its police court had featured in Dickens’s Oliver Twist (1836), and behind it lay the once-notorious Saffron Hill, where Fagin’s “rookery” of thieves was situated. By 1890 Hatton Garden had become more respectable, housing a variety of businesses. Among its more colorful recent occupants was Jaques and Son, a long-established games company that had launched the modern Staunton chess figures and introduced both croquet and table tennis to Britain. Another was Hiram Maxim, who had developed his famous machine gun in Hatton Garden during the 1880s but was now involved with heavier-than-air flight. Maxim had been a self-taught instrument maker and electrician before making his fortune with the quick-firing gun. Elsewhere in Hatton Garden, Johnson and Mathey had become central to the fast-developing international gold business, recently boosted by major finds in South Africa and Australia.

Here Robert Paul plied his trade, producing instruments for teaching and research in electricity, as well as for the growing electrical trade. The record of his admission to the Institute of Electrical Engineering includes the surprising information that he exployed “about thirty hands,” which suggests that the business was thriving.41 We might wonder, however, about his status in a world that was changing but still governed by rigid class codes. Seventy years earlier, Faraday had made the painful transition from servant to gentleman, through exceptional talent that led to the creation of a special professorship for him at the Royal Institution. And it was this same uniquely English institution that had changed Sylvanus Thompson’s vocation, and would later play an important part in Paul’s life. The two City and Guilds’ colleges, Finsbury and the Central Institution, set out to professionalize science education but could not themselves change the class structure that was acknowledged in Finsbury’s admission categories.

The Theatrograph

Film historians have sometimes wondered why Paul took so long to develop a projector after producing the camera used for the filming earlier in 1895, apparently forgetting that moving pictures was never his only business. When he had started to make substantial profits from Kinetoscopes and their operation in 1895, he was forced to take on a second workshop for this business, on Saffron Hill. His speculative “Time Machine” patent in October of that year (of which more later) suggests that he was unsure how to develop this unexpected new business and was considering different possibilities.There was certainly no shortage of others aiming to capitalize (p.51) on the appeal of moving pictures that the Kinetoscope had demonstrated. Acres wrote that “the Lumière apparatus was well known before Paul had attempted to do anything,” and indeed the Cinématographe had been undergoing demonstration in France since March.42 Acres himself was at work on his Kineopticon projector, patented as early as May 1895, and had given a “semi-public” demonstration in August, at the Assembly Rooms in New Barnet. Other inventors were active in Germany and the United States. But rather than pursue the chimera of “who was first,” which has so dominated (and distorted) the early history of moving pictures, it is more relevant to point to the very obvious reasons why projection would attract so many pioneers, in view of the wide currency of the magic lantern, now increasingly known as “optical.”

Devices for projecting images on a screen had been known since the seventeenth century, when early versions of the standard lantern were proposed by Athanasius Kircher and Christian Huygens.43 By the mid-nineteenth century, photography and lithographic printing had made lantern slides cheaper and more plentiful, while new forms of illumination enabled lanterns to produce a brighter image on larger screens. A double or triple lantern using limelight could produce an image suitable for venues as large as Carnegie Hall in New York, Chicago’s Symphony Hall, or the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, where leading lantern lecturers regularly appeared before capacity audiences.44 Given the scale of the lantern industry, with its numerous equipment producers and slide suppliers serving the needs of thousands of presenters—many of whom would become the first users of film—the issue of film projection needs to be understood more as an offshoot of an existing practice than as an entirely new development. Certainly the film transport mechanism required innovation, but the other essential components of the system—illumination, lens, and screen—were already widely available.

We may never know whether Paul was spurred on by news of the Lumières’ public demonstration in Paris on 28 December 1895, or by Acres’s presentation of the “Kinetic Lantern” (a name that emphasized the apparatus’s close links with the magic or optical lantern) to the Royal Photographic Society on 14 January 1896, when he showed some of the films made during his partnership with Paul, as well as new subjects taken in Germany.45 In fact, Paul’s immediate motivation may have derived from his existing business, as he explained to Oskar Messter in 1932:

Lack of capital prevented me from producing the [Wells-inspired “time machine”] pictures, but I proceeded to design the Projector. My desire (p.52)

FlashbackAn Engineer’s Education

13. Ayrton-Mather galvanometer, manufactured and sold by Paul in 1895.

Oxford Museum of History of Science.

was to produce an attachment for existing lanterns, chiefly to be used in Schools and Colleges, and to be sold for £5. This was shown at Finsbury Technical College … and also at the Royal Institution.46

These demonstrations of Paul’s projector, the Theatrograph, took place on 20 February and 28 February respectively, the former on the evening of the Lumière demonstration at the Polytechnic, and the latter in an “exhibition” in the Institution’s library at which William Friese-Greene also gave a presentation.47 The choice of venues was entirely consistent with Paul’s stated intentions. While it may seem surprising that he had not grasped the entertainment potential of projected pictures after the Empire of India success, we should remember that his main business was now selling apparatus for educational and scientific use. As it happens, £5 was also the price of an Ayrton-Mather galvanometer, such as the one bought by a chemist, Herbert McLeod, in 1894.48

Moving pictures on the screen were nonetheless newsworthy, and Paul’s demonstrations attracted attention, in spite of their less public venues, which could hardly have happened without him issuing advance notice. The Finsbury College showing was noted in the English Mechanic (p.53) of 21 February, together with a notice of the Cinématographe being demonstrated on the same day at the Regent Street Polytechnic.49 A report of the Finsbury show appeared in the City Press on the following day, and the Royal Institution demonstration was noted in several papers on 29 February. According to the Daily Chronicle:

The audience sees upon a screen living pictures … ships coming into the harbour, waves breaking on the shore … all in a highly realistic manner.

Paul was evidently interviewed for this report, from which it appears that he still had the Wellsian “novel means of presenting” in view:

He has some starting ideas in his head … nothing less than, we understand, a vivid realisation of some of the imaginative scenery pictured in Mr Wells’ Time Machine.

Questions inevitably arise about these events and reports, as they have become frequently cited landmarks. How far ahead did Paul know about the impending Lumière demonstration in London, and did he arrange his Finsbury demonstration to coincide as closely as possible? Or might friends at the college have invited him, since there was some rivalry between Finsbury College and Regent Street Polytechnic, which Sylvanus Thompson had described sarcastically in 1890 as an “excellent social club”?50 Those suspicious of Paul’s later recollections have also questioned his claim not to have realized the entertainment potential of moving pictures until after the Royal Institution show. What is not in doubt, however, is that at least one audience member at that second demonstration did grasp this potential and acted quickly to secure it.

Lady Florence Harris was the wife of the most important theater impresario in London, Sir Augustus Harris.51 Famous for his extravagant Drury Lane pantomimes, Harris also had interests in other entertainment venues, and when Paul responded to a telegram inviting him to breakfast, he was invited to present the Theatrograph at Olympia, in an entertainment annex to an exhibition center, the Palmarium, then being managed by Harris. According to Terry Ramsaye, writing in 1926, and Leslie Wood, in 1947, Harris had already seen the Lumière Cinématographe in Paris and was keen to book a similar attraction while it was still a novelty.52 These and other popular accounts stress how fleeting Harris and Paul thought the interest in projected pictures might be—possibly cases of “dramatic irony” dating from the height of the cinema’s popularity. At any rate, a daily program of screenings began at Olympia on 21 (p.54)

FlashbackAn Engineer’s Education

14. Advertisement for Paul’s “Theatrographe” program in the Palmarium hall of Olympia, near Earls Court, June 1896.

March, with tickets priced at sixpence for five or six subjects, and Paul and Harris apparently splitting the take fifty-fifty.53

Two days earlier, screenings with a Paul projector also took place at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly.54 This popular venue, opened in the early years of the century as a museum of curiosities, was now being run by the magician Nevil Maskelyne and billed as “England’s home of mystery,” with the young Georges Méliès a frequent visitor during the time he had spent in London in 1883. The appearance there of the Theatrograph, presented by the magician David Devant, forged an early relationship with magicians which would take it to a wide public, as the initially skeptical Maskelyne became a strong supporter, and probably a valued adviser, to Paul on the entertainment world.55 Meanwhile, Acres also launched daily shows of his Kineopticon on 21 March, at Piccadilly Mansions; the first regular presentation entirely devoted to moving pictures, it ran until 10 June—a successor to De Loutherbourg’s Eidophusikon presentation in nearby Lisle Street in the 1780s, and a forerunner of later “news cinema” programs.56

The adoption of the Theatrograph for entertainment purposes gath­ (p.55)

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15. The Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, shown here around 1900, opened as a museum of curiosities in 1812 and hosted many nineteenth-century novelties and spectacles, before becoming “England’s home of mystery” in the 1870s (and responsible for inspiring Georges Méliès’s interest in magic in 1884). Nevil Maskelyne and George Cooke’s shows ran for thirty years, incorporating increasing amounts of film, before the hall’s demolition in 1905.

ered pace when the management of the Alhambra Music Hall in Leicester Square approached Paul, proposing a fortnight’s run as part of the theater’s variety bill—clearly designed to compete with the Lumière Cinématographe, which had opened on 9 March at the Alhambra’s Leicester Square rival, the Empire, presented by the multitalented entertainer, “Professor” Felicien Trewey. The Alhambra engagement, for which Paul’s projector was renamed the “Animatograph,” began on 25 March and would famously run far beyond its initial booking.57 Paul was now committed to presenting a ten-minute program six nights per week, for the substantial daily fee of £11, or £66 per week. Still apparently believing that interest in moving pictures might prove short-lived, he made arrangements to present a similar program at “five or six other [music] halls—the Canterbury in Westminster Bridge Road, the Paragon, the West London, the Britannia at Hoxton, as well as one or two others.”58 To maintain this hectic schedule, Paul hired a brougham carriage to travel (p.56) his growing circuit and began to recruit operators: “Mostly I hired limelight men from the music halls. I paid them the hitherto unheard of salary of four pounds a week to project pictures.”59

Projected pictures had become an established attraction in a matter of weeks, and not only in London. The Cinématographe was attracting crowds in Paris, while in New York, Edison had bowed to the popularity of projection over the Kinetoscope and acquired an existing projector, Thomas Armatt’s Phantascope, renaming it in the process. The launch of “Edison’s Vitascope” took place on 23 April at Koster and Bials’ music hall on Broadway, with a program of Kinetoscope subjects supplemented by the established Acres-Paul success Rough Sea at Dover, which attracted enthusiastic praise, with no reference to its source.

We have an account of the rival operations in Leicester Square at this time by another interested party. Charles Webster had arrived in London on 30 April, representing Edison’s licensees, Raff and Gammon, who were hoping to launch the Vitascope in this film-mad city. Webster went first to the Empire to assess the competition:

I must say I was surprised to see such good results. … They have been at the Empire for two months and exhibit afternoons on a 50% basis, and evenings they get £10. Mr C[inquevalli, Edison’s agent already in London] tells me it runs close to $600.00 a week and it makes the hit of the show. In operation it is noiseless, being operated by hand power, and takes but about 2 sq ft. The wait between pictures is between 15 and 20 seconds. They use the transparent screen and are located about 20 ft from it, being on the stage). The picture is about 1/2 as bright as ours, and the picture a trifle smaller.60

He went on to describe the program in detail, observing that the films “are of a local nature and all true to life … and cost a mere nothing compared to ours.” He also noted:

There are two or more other machines in London, making three in all, but the one at the Empire is the best of all. … PS—Have just found out that the other machines are sold for $200.00 and that quite a number have been sold to France.61

The “other machines” were clearly Paul’s, at the Alhambra and Olympia. Perhaps the rest of Paul’s circuit had not yet started, or Webster had failed to inquire more widely. But his account points to several important issues regarding Paul’s equipment. (p.57)

FlashbackAn Engineer’s Education

16. Exterior of the Alhambra in Leicester Square, with large signs advertising Paul’s Animatograph (1896).

The first is perhaps the question of quality: how good was Paul’s original projector? According to Wood:

[Paul] confessed to me that he saw the Lumière pictures at the first opportunity and considered them better than his own because they were steadier and brighter.62

Other reports from this period confirm the general verdict that the Cinématographe produced better results than the early Theatrograph.63 But Paul was committed to improving his device and began to modify his demonstration model almost immediately. His first projector, patented on 21 February, used a seven-pointed star-wheel for its intermittent mechanism. Paul explained the reason for this when writing to his fellow pioneer Messter, who had asked about details of early mechanisms:

The reason I first used a seven pointed intermittent motion was this: the Kinetoscope had a fourteen picture sprocket, which had evidently too much inertia for an intermittent action, so I made the sprocket half that diameter, of aluminium and as light as possible.64

(p.58) Paul’s second patent was dated 2 March, sixteen days before that for Jules Carpentier’s five-pointed star wheel and before a further patent by Victor Continsouza that used the four-pointed “Maltese Cross.”65 Most later projectors by Paul and others would use three- or four-pointed crosses, “with tangential action replacing the primitive form.”66 As for noise, Paul affirmed that Messter was “correct in supposing that the mechanism was noisy,” but explained that in theaters the projectors were behind the screen, “usually in a compartment at the extreme rear of the stage,” so was “not very objectionable.”67

Webster’s information on price has a much wider significance than the figure quoted. Paul was in fact the only manufacturer in Europe selling workable projectors on the open market in March–April 1896—with the inevitable result that would-be “early adopters” turned away by the Lumières, who were only willing to licence territorial franchise-holders at this stage, found their way to Paul. One of the first of these was the American magician Carl Hertz, who left an entertaining account of his struggle to buy one of Paul’s few projectors for his world tour in March 1896:

Paul agreed to sell me a machine for £50, but said that he could not deliver it for two or three months. I told him that I was leaving for South Africa on the following Saturday—it was then Tuesday—and that I would like to take the machine with me. He said that he had only two machines, and that these were on the stage at the Alhambra, where he was fulfilling a six months’ engagement at £100 a week. I offered him £80 but he would not listen to me, and I went away much disappointed.

The next night I called to see him again, took him out to my club to supper, and did all I could to induce him to sell me one of his machines. But it was no use; he would not do so. However, on the Friday night … I determined to make a last attempt, and accordingly took him out to supper again and offered him £100 for one of his machines. He repeated, however, that he could not risk parting with one; he must have a machine in reserve in case of accidents.

“Well,” said I, “you had better take me over to the Alhambra and explain to me the workings of the machine and all about it, so that I shall understand it when one is sent out to me.”

So we went back to the Alhambra, where he took me onto the stage and showed me the whole working of the machine. … We were there for over an hour, during which I kept pressing him. … Finally, I said: “Look here! I am going to take one of the machines with me now.”

With that I took out £100 in notes, put them in his hand, got a screwdriver, and almost before he knew it, I had one of the machines unscrewed (p.59)

FlashbackAn Engineer’s Education

17. Carl Hertz was the stage name of Louis Morgenstein (1859–1924), a successful international magician who took Paul’s projector on his round-the-world tour of 1896–1898, giving debut film shows in many cities throughout South Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand, and subsequently Singapore and Burma.

from the floor of the stage and onto a four-wheeler. The next day I sailed for South Africa on the Norman, with the first cinematograph which had ever left England.68

If this story is substantially true—and Hertz certainly did leave with a projector and some films (of which more in chapter 6)—then his first meeting with Paul would have been on the opening day of the Alhambra engagement, Tuesday, 24 March. This fits with Will Day’s account of how the unplanned sale to Hertz led to an improvement in the projector’s design. According to Day, Paul “deeply regretted” allowing himself to be “cajoled” by Hertz

as it necessitated him working without any rest from the Saturday to the Monday evening to produce another machine. [However] this proved to be a blessing in disguise [since it] caused Mr Paul to introduce an improvement (p.60) to the Animatograph, by the introduction of a third sprocket, running continuously, to feed the film from the top spool to the intermittent sprocket.69

Paul’s own account of the projector’s evolution stated that “my first sale of a projector was in March 1896 to [the magician] David Devant; and it resulted from a descriptive article in the English Mechanic of March 6th 1896.”70 However, he also noted that “two only of this type” were made, one having been the original demonstration machine in February. So the model Hertz bought was likely one of the two dozen “suited for short films only” that Paul produced before switching to a “top feed” model, which he then “made in batches of 24 or 36 at a time.” Day implies that he is quoting from Paul’s sales ledger when he lists Esme Collings of Brighton as having bought a No. 2 model on 17 March. The other purchasers he lists are A. D. Thomas (4 April), Mr. Howard (“who first worked this apparatus on the Moss and Thornton circuit,” also on 4 April), and Mr. Méliès of Paris, “who is recorded as having purchased 6 Theatrograph projectors on 4th April.” Méliès then proceeded to “encase one of these instruments in a box and [convert] it into a motion picture camera.”71 Another early cross-channel customer noted by Day was Charles Pathé, the future tycoon of early cinema, and already one of Paul’s Kinetoscope customers.72

Although anecdotal and documentary evidence cannot be fully reconciled, Paul’s willingness to sell Theatrographs (often known as Animatographs, after the name adopted for the Alhambra) meant that demand far outstripped what he could produce, even though he could virtually name his own price. As we shall see, it was significant that at least three of his early customers were magicians; quick to see the potential of this new machine, they would have an important influence on the direction that early moving-picture entertainment took.

Claims and counterclaims about priority flew within the photographic press throughout the first half of 1896, as the commercial appeal of moving pictures became clear. To Acres’s letter of 7 March, claiming Paul knew nothing about the principles involved in creating a moving-picture camera, Paul replied ten days later that it was he who had supplied Acres with a complete “kinetograph,” “in designing the mechanism of which [Acres] took no part.”73 Henry Short was invoked by both in the argument, and after Acres wrote that it was William Friese-Greene who “holds what is really the master patent,”74 Friese-Greene himself joined in to recall his patents of 1890 and 1893 “for producing so-called animated photographs upon a screen,”75 now adding a new claim—which would result in his (p.61)

FlashbackAn Engineer’s Education

18. A Paul Theatrograph acquired by Georges Méliès early in 1896, now in the collection of the Cinémathèque Française.

continuing to be venerated as England’s “inventor of kinematography” until the late twentieth century.76

According to Day—by no means always reliable, but one of the first to take an historical interest in early film equipment—it was the production of the No. 2 Theatrograph that led to Paul constructing a new camera sometime in March 1896. With this he would enter film production on his own account for the first time, to meet the demand among his growing number of Theatrograph customers. And immediately after the bustling London scenes that were his first subjects came two “rough sea” films, taken at Ramsgate, as if to match or trump Acres’s pioneering Rough Sea at Dover. (p.62)


(1.) Acres did not return to exhibition after his venue was closed by fire in 1896. And although the Lumières developed a worldwide network of franchise-holders and (p.295) roving operator-projectionists between 1896 and 1898, the brothers largely withdrew from the motion-picture business after 1900, preferring to work on such new projects as color photography and stereoscopy rather then become involved with “theatrical” production, as Paul did.

(2.) Irene Codd papers, British Film Institute, Special Collections. The papers, deposited at BFI in 2014, comprise a much-revised typescript of about eighty pages; a letter from “Ellen and Robert Paul” to Codd, dated 25 April 1938; and various other letters and newspaper cuttings. I am grateful to Bryony Dixon and Nathalie Morris for the opportunity to consult and quote from this.

(3.) Irene’s father, Mortimer Arthur Codd (1880–1938), was an electrical engineer and scientist, director of research at the X-Ray Laboratories of Torrington Place in the 1920s, and, like Paul, a motoring enthusiast who published various books on electrical systems for motor cars.

(4.) Paul’s birthplace was wrongly given by John Barnes as Albion Place, when in fact it was Albion Road (now Furlong Road), off Holloway Road. The artist and photographer Sam Nightingale has investigated changing street names, trying, like myself, to establish exactly where Paul was born, as part of his “lost cinemas” project. https://www.samnightingale.com/launched-islingtons-lost-cinemas-online-archive/.

(5.) In the 1899 Lloyd’s Register, the following ships are listed as owned by Paul and Shellshear of 21 Billiter Street, London EC1: Bolderaa, Neva, Octa, Onega, Varna, Viatka. By 1906, only the Bolderaa was listed. I am grateful for help in tracing these ships from marine historian Gilbert Provost.

(6.) “The Incorporation of West Ham,” Times, 1 November 1886, 12.

(7.) Robert’s “home address” was given in the Finsbury Technical College Record as “Frith Knowl, Elstree, Herts,” after 1887.

(8.) G. Watchorn, Never a Dull Moment: A History of the Cambridge Instrument Company 1918–1968 (Cambridge, 1990), 3.

(9.) A. E. Douglas-Smith, The City of London School (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1937).

(10.) Finsbury Technical College and Old Students Association, Journal of the City and Guilds of London Institute, n.s., 1, no. 2 (March 1888): 66. I am grateful to John Barnes for this reference.

(11.) The first cable broke after two months and 732 messages successfully sent.

(12.) See chap. 11, p. 219.

(13.) Matthew Josephson, Edison: A Biography (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1959), 252.

(14.) From the account by Robert Harding in the William J. Hammer Collection, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, http://americanhistory.si.edu/archives/d8069.htm (accessed 12 December 2006). This collection, from one of Edison’s employees, includes photographs of the Edison dynamo and the 1882 electric lighting plant erected by Hammer. The official catalogue of the International Electric and Gas Exhibition and articles from the Daily Telegraph, Daily Chronicle, and Daily News are also included (series 4, box 99; series 3, box 42, folders 1–2).

(15.) Hugo Hirst, “The History of the General Electric Company up to 1900, Part 1,” GEC Review 14, no. 1 (1999): 48.

(17.) Hannah Gay, “East End, West End: Science, Education and Culture in Victorian London,” Canadian Journal of History 32 (August 1997): 159.

(18.) John Scott Russell (1808–1882), the engineer and naval architect, is quoted in D. S. L. Cardwell, The Organisation of Science in England (London: Heinemann, 1972), (p.296) 111–12. Christopher Keep, “Technology, Industrial Conflict and the Development of Technical Education in 19th-Century England,” Victorian Studies 47, no. 2 (Winter 2005): 299.

(19.) James Foreman-Peck, “Spontaneous Disorder? A Very Short History of British Vocational Education and Training,” Policy Futures in Education 2, no. 1 (2004): 81.

(20.) The speech, at a prizegiving in Greenwich for the Government Science and Arts examinations in 1875, was made while Gladstone was in opposition after his first ministry. Quoted in Hannah Gay, The History of Imperial College London, 1907–2007: Higher Education and Research in Science, Technology and Medicine (London: Imperial College Press, 2007), 27–28.

(22.) Information on William Taylor from Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society 2 (1937): 363.

(24.) See H. Bowden, seminar on the history of electrical engineering, “The Test Room,” Institute of Electrical Engineering 2003/10330, IEE Digest, no. 4 (2003).

(25.) The company had been set up by Francis Welle, with the objectives of “the production, sale, purchase, and rental of telephone and telegraph equipment and everything that has to do directly or indirectly with the use of electricity.” By the turn of the century it had grown enormously, and as the European base of ITT, would employ eleven thousand by 1927. See “Inside Alcatel-Lucent: The Company That Makes the Web,” https://www.ft.com/content/4e7d2682-33bd-11e4-ba62-00144feabdc0(accessed 12 April 2019).

(26.) The execution of Leon Czolgosz, the anarchist responsible for assassinating President William McKinley in 1901, was re-created for Edison’s series of films on McKinley’s death and its aftermath. Edison was personally involved in the preparation for Electrocuting an Elephant (1903), which showed Topsy, an elephant condemned to death after injuring various spectators at Luna Park, succumbing to a lethal dose of alternating current. This spectacular demonstration formed part of Edison’s campaign to show that AC was more dangerous than his DC system.

(27.) That Tesla (1846–1943), born in what is now Croatia and naturalized as American, died in poverty has helped to cast him as a victim. So too has the long debate over priority in wireless invention. Tesla’s original patents of 1900 were challenged by Marconi, but the initial judgment in Marconi’s favor was reversed by the US Supreme Court in 1943, shortly after Tesla’s death.

(28.) “Before 1910,” Proceedings of the British Kinematograph Society, no. 38 (1936), 2.

(29.) On polemics during this period and new requirements in current measurement, see Graeme J. N. Gooday, The Morals of Measurement: Accuracy, Irony, and Trust in Late Victorian Electrical Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 155 ff.

(30.) C. N. Brown, “R. W. Paul and the Unipivot Galvanometer,” IEE Seminars on the History of Electrical Engineering, IEE Digest, no. 3 (2003), p. 3.

(31.) Crookes’s talk, “The Mechanical Action of Light,” was accompanied by a demonstration of his radiometer and attracted Thompson’s interest to the study of light.

(32.) Quoted in A. C. Lynch, “Sylvanus Thompson: Teacher, Researcher, Historian,” Institute of Electrical Engineering Proceedings 136, pt. A, no. 6 (November 1989): 307.

(34.) The Society of Telegraph Engineers, founded in 1874, changed its name to (p.297) reflect a widening electrical profession on 1 January 1889. Associates had to be twenty-one, which would just have made Paul eligible. See “Research Guide: History of the Institution,” Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) website, http://www.iee.org/TheIEE/Research/Archives/ResearchGuides/IEE&SavoyPlace.cfm (accessed 14 December 2006). Richard Brown notes that another future Kinetoscope dealer, Cecil Wray of Bradford, also became an associate of the IEE in 1889. See Brown, “The Kinetoscope in Yorkshire,” in Visual Delights: Essays on the Popular and Projected Image in the 19th Century, ed. Simon Popple and Vanessa Toulmin (Trowbridge: Flicks Books, 2000), 108. Brown later assumes that Paul was “upper middle-class” (113), but this seems unwarranted on the evidence currently available—or requires a more precise historical definition of “middle class.”

(36.) Richard Brown has identified seven patent applications made by Paul between 1887 (when he was only eighteen), and his Kinetoscope Apparatus application of September 1895.

(37.) Thompson gave the Christmas Lectures in 1896 on “Light: Visible and Invisible” and in 1910 on “Sound: Musical and Non-Musical.”

(38.) Paul, “Before 1910,” 6. This would probably have been in connection with Thompson’s successful book Elementary Lessons on Electricity and Magnetism, first published 1881, updated and in print until 1920.

(39.) C. V. Boys, Soap Bubbles: Their Colours and the Forces Which Mould Them (New York: SPCK, 1912); A. M. Worthington, A Study of Splashes (London: Longman, Green & Co, 1908). Both have been reprinted by Dover.

(40.) Such documentation began early in Boys’s case, with photographs published in William G. FitzGerald, “Some Curiosities of Modern Photography II,” Strand, no. 191 (February 1895).

(41.) IEE register 1896.

(42.) Acres, 1912 annotations to Frederick A. Talbot, Moving Pictures: How They Are Made and Worked (London: Heinemann, 1912), 43. The Cinématographe was first demonstrated publicly in Paris at a photographic trade event on 22 March 1895. See Deac Rossell, Living Pictures: The Origins of the Movies (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998), 130–31.

(43.) The origin of the projecting lantern has traditionally been attributed to Kircher, on the basis of his book Ars Magna lucis et umbrae (The great science of light and dark), first published in Rome in 1646. However, inconsistencies in Kircher’s account have suggested he did not in fact know how to make a lantern, and that the credit for this should go to Huygens, who mentioned the “lanterne magique” in a manuscript of 1659 (Oeuvres completes, vol. 22), which included nine sketches of its arrangement, together with typical skeleton slide images. Encyclopedia of the Magic Lantern (Magic Lantern Society, 2001), 142. See also http://www.luikerwaal.com/newframe_uk.htm?/kircher_uk.htm.

(44.) Limelight was produced by an oxy-hydrogen-powered flame playing on a block of lime. Double and triple lanterns allowed time-lapse “dissolves” and motion effects to be displayed.

(45.) Report of an ordinary meeting of the Royal Photographic Society, Photographic Journal, 31 January 1896, 123–24.

(46.) Paul, letter to Messter, 5 August 1932; Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv, Barnes Collection. See chap. 11 for details of the Paul-Messter correspondence.

(p.298) (47.) The main “discourse” on 28 February was by a Dr. John Murray, with “marine organisms shown under microscopes.” Friese-Greene exhibited a “cylindrical photo printing machine,” while Paul showed the Theatrograph and “electrical instruments.” Richard Brown, who kindly provided this information, was informed by the Institution’s archivist that the attendance of 320 for Murray’s presentation was “relatively low.”

(48.) McLeod’s diary notes paying 5 pounds for an Ayrton-Mather model galvanometer on 26 June 1894, purchased on behalf of the British Association Solar Spectroscopy Committee. In am grateful to Hannah Gay for this information.

(49.) English Mechanic, 21 February 1896, 11.

(50.) S. P. Thompson, “The Organisation of Secondary and Technical Education in London,” Journal of the Society of Arts, no. 38 (1890), 324. Quoted in A. C. Lynch, “Sylvanus Thompson,” 308.

(51.) The shows staged by Sir Augustus Henry Glossop Harris (1852–1896), nicknamed the “Father of Modern Pantomime” or “Augustus Druriolanus,” were hugely successful, although criticized by some for vulgarity. While he did not invent the conventions of Principal Boys being played by women and Dames played by men, Harris developed the tradition, with popular music-hall stars like Dan Leno playing the Dame every year. See Victoria and Albert Museum, Theatre collections, http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/d/dan-leno/ (accessed 10 April 2019).

(52.) Terry Ramsaye, A Million and One Nights: A History of the Motion Picture through 1926 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1926), 238–89; Leslie Wood, The Miracle of the Movies (London: Burke Publishing, 1947), 100–101.

(53.) According to Ramsaye (Million and One Nights, 239), who would presumably have been informed of this by Paul.

(54.) Advertised in The Era, 21 March 1896, 16.

(55.) Maskelyne was listed as a sponsor of Paul’s proposed public flotation in 1897, and one of Paul’s products was named after him.

(56.) Philippe De Loutherbourg was the first to advertise his show as “moving pictures,” in 1781; see Ann Bermingham, “Technologies of Illusion: De Loutherbourg’s Eidophusikon in Eighteenth-Century London,” Art History 2 (April 2016): 376–99. On the 1930s “news theater” trend in cinema exhibition, see http://bufvc.ac.uk/newsonscreen/davidlean/news-theatres.

(57.) Richard Brown has discovered that Paul had approached other theaters before joining the Alhambra program. Although he remembered the engagement running for over two years, he actually left the Alhambra in autumn 1897, after a dispute about the terms for showing his films of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

(58.) Wood, Miracle of the Movies, 101, purporting to quote from interview with Paul.

(63.) A review of Paul’s Theatrograph show at the Royal Institution remarked that “in its present condition the registration of the pictures on the screen is not so per‑ fect as in Lumière’s arrangement.” Amateur Photographer 23, no. 597 (13 March 1896): 226.

(64.) Paul, letter to Messter, 5 August 1932, 3.

(p.299) (65.) John Barnes, “Robert William Paul, Father of the British Film Industry,” 1895 (journal of the Association française de recherche sur l’histoire du cinéma [AFRHC]), no. 24 (June 1998), 6.

(66.) Paul, letter to Messter, 30 January 1935, 2.

(67.) Paul, letter to Messter, 30 January 1935, 2.

(68.) Carl Hertz, A Modern Mystery Merchant (London: Hutchinson,1924), 140.

(69.) Will Day, “R. W. Paul MIEE,” typescript, Day Papers 10, Bibliothèque du Film (BiFi), Paris, 6.

(70.) Paul, letter to Messter, 5 August 1932.

(71.) This first improvised camera of Méliès is preserved in the Cinémathèque Française collection.

(72.) Charles Pathé, founder along with his brothers of the company bearing his name, was a Phonograph exhibitor before he moved into Kinetoscopes and then film production and distribution. In December 1897, the company was recapitalized as Société Pathé Frères and began operating on a similar level to Paul.

(73.) An exchange in the British Journal of Photography was eventually terminated by the editor.

(74.) Acres, letter in British Journal of Photography, 7 March 1896, quoted by Barnes, Cinema in England, 1:35. William Friese-Greene had long claimed priority in moving pictures on the basis of his 1889 patent for a “chronophotographic” camera, reported in Photographic News, 20 February 1890, and in Scientific American, 19 April 1890.

(75.) Optical and Magic Lantern Journal 7, no. 86 (July 1896): 119.

(76.) See the section “Paul’s Afterlife” in chap. 11.