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Making the Case for Theodore Case

I returned to the Cayuga Museum of History and Art at Auburn, NY. The Museum is now open on Tuesday through Friday and weekends from noon to 5:00 pm. One of the prominent families who lived in the Mansion was Willard Case, father of Theodore Case who invented the techniques to add sound to film movies as they are being filmed.

The Case Research Laboratory which is located at the rear of the Mansion was once a greenhouse which was converted into a scientific laboratory by Willard Case and his son Theodore. They hired Earl Sponable as an assistant and had as many as ten people working as scientists, machinists, glassblowers, and clerical staff.

The Case Research Lab made thalofide photo-electric cells which were sensitive to changes in various degrees of lighting. Lee de Forest in 1920 began using the Case Thalofide Cell for reproducing sound on film for the system that he was working on. In late 1922, The Case Laboratory invented the AEO light, a very sensitive cell (light bulb) that could react to variations in sound waves.

In 1926, Case and Sponable were able to demonstrate a camera system to William Fox which could record the sound onto the film in the camera itself. Fox partnered with Case to commercialize sound film and called their new system Movietone. Movietone made its first public debut in 1927 and for the first time, the public could see and hear the news-maker’s report as it was being filmed. Case was not given proper credit for the invention of sound film until after 1990 when the Cayuga Museum cataloged and researched Case’s original papers.

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