Reverend Goodwin’s Invention

If you go into a thrift store, you might find at least one very nice point and shoot camera for sale at pennies on the dollar.  Last week, at Goodwill, I saw a Canon Sure Shot, just like one that I originally paid $300 a few years ago. It was priced at $6.00, including the original box with its accessories. Lesser cameras sell for the same price as worn out 8-Track tape cartridges.

I have three or four rolls of long expired negative film and a couple of rolls of positive, slide film tucked away in my refrigerator. I promise myself that someday I’ll load a roll into my old SLR camera and make art. I wonder if there will be a rebirth of film similar to that of vinyl records.

The Reverend Hannibal Goodwin

The Reverend Hannibal Goodwin

Traditional mass photography became a global phenomenon largely because of the simplicity of celluloid camera film.  People who love movies or old photographs can thank the Reverend Hannibal Goodwin.

The minister liked to use a “magic lantern” to project glass slide images of Bible stories in his Sunday School classes at his Episcopalian church in Newark, New Jersey. Reverend Goodwin wanted to produce his own slides but was intimidated by the complicated procedures used to make glass photographic plates.  He knew there had to be a better way.

In his spare time, Goodwin spent a couple of years experimenting in his attic with a recently patented plastic made of nitrocellulose.  He was able to produce a flexible sheet of transparent film.  On May 2, 1887, Goodwin filed a vaguely worded patent application for a “photographic pellicle and process of producing” for use in “roller cameras”.

Meantime George Eastman’s company introduced a flexible negative process the following year, 1888.  Eastman’s invention used paper, not celluloid film. The performance and developing of paper negatives was very expensive and produced unsatisfying pictures. Serious amateur and professional photographers were not pleased, so they remained faithful to glass plate technology.

Eastman assigned his chemist, Henry Reichenbach, the task of developing a more effective substance to replace paper roll film. Eventually, Reichenbach’s experimentation paid off with an invention very similar to Reverend Goodwin’s. In April of 1889, Reichenbach and the Kodak Company filed a detailed patent Film-03application. It was approved in December and the first rolls of the celluloid film went on sale the following year.

After a decade of administrative red tape Goodwin was awarded his rightful patent. Goodwin immediately contested the Kodak patent.  Two years later, in 1900, the retired minister formed the “Goodwin Film and Camera Company”. Just before production was ready to begin, the good reverend was seriously injured in an accident near a construction zone. He died from his injuries on December 31, 1900.

Goodwin’s widow sold the “Goodwin Film and Camera Company” to the Edward Anthony company and Scovil Manufacturing. The two firms merged to form Ansco. The new company manufactured a short production run of Goodwin’s original patent film. In 1902, they filed a lawsuit against the Eastman Kodak Company over infringement of the 1887 patent on flexible celluloid film. Film-01

A dozen years later, in 1914, The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Ansco and Reverend Goodwin’s heirs.  Kodak was ordered to pay $5,000,000.  Plus, other film companies, that used a similar celluloid process, had to pay an additional $300,000.

Many years later, acetate was substituted for celluloid, but the Reverend Hannibal Goodwin’s basic invention laid the groundwork for almost all photography for nearly 100 years.

Film-04iconThe Blue Jay of Happiness likes this quote by Henri Cartier-Bresson: “The creative act lasts but a brief moment, a lightning instant of give-and-take, just long enough for you to level the camera and to trap the fleeting prey in your little box.”

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in Controversy, cultural highlights, Gadgets, History, Vintage Collectables and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Reverend Goodwin’s Invention

  1. Fascinating — I did not know that!

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