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C. Francis Jenkins, Pioneer of Film and Television

Donald Godfrey

Publication Year: 2014

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 to meet the needs of his day and the future. In 1895 he 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.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.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: The History of Communication

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. ix-xii

The name Charles Francis Jenkins (1867–1934) has been too long forgotten. He was an American original for whom inventing was a natural talent, a visionary working on the leading edge of technical discovery in film and television. He was the only inventor present at the inception of both...

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pp. xiii-xiv

A book is never the work of a single author in isolation. My appreciation goes to family, friends, colleagues, and archivists who have supported this work. I extend a special thanks to my wife, Christina Maria, who patiently supports all my writing. My daughter Emma Maria Knight worked...

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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...

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Chapter 1. Jenkins' Heritage and Youth

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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...

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Chapter 2. Early Film Experiments

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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...

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Chapter 3. A Lifetime of Struggle

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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...

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Chapter 4. Jenkins' Motion Pictures

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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...

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Chapter 5. Founding the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers

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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...

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Chapter 6. Visionary Entrepreneur

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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...

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Chapter 7. RadioVision: The Genesis and Promotion

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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...

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Chapter 8. Radio Pictures: Going Operational

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pp. 107-120

Jenkins’ private demonstrations of RadioVision and the transmitted photographs of public figures produced volumes of publicity. By 1922, even Scientific American was on board, foreseeing a distinguished future: “it is obvious that we already have broadcasting concerts and opera [on radio]...

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Chapter 9. Television: Seeing by Electricity

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pp. 121-134

The word television first 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 prefix...

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Chapter 10. The Eyes of Radio

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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...

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Chapter 11. The Jenkins Television Corporation

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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...

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Chapter 12. American Visionary

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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...

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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 their...

Appendix A. U.S. Patents Issued to C. Francis Jenkins

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pp. 185-192

Appendix B. Selected Jenkins Patents Referenced in Modern Patent Applications

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pp. 193-194


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pp. 195-264

A Selected Research Bibliography

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pp. 265-278


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pp. 279-284

About the Author, Series Page, Publisher Notes

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E-ISBN-13: 9780252096150
E-ISBN-10: 0252096150
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252038280

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: The History of Communication

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Jenkins, C. Francis (Charles Francis), 1867-1934.
  • Inventors -- United States -- Biography.
  • Cinematographers -- United States -- Biography.
  • Television -- Biography.
  • Television -- History.
  • Cinematography -- History.
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