Monday, April 27, 2015

A Film Projection Course at Auburn in 1923

Who knew that in 1923 Auburn University--then known as Alabama Polytechnic Institute [API], of course--had a Motion Picture Projection Department?

Wandering around Lantern, the Media History Digital Library, will turn up all sorts of goodies. Recently I found the two-part article below in July 1923 issues of Motion Picture News. The News was published under that title from 1913 until 1930.

The article gives us many details about the projection course being taught at API as described to the editor by Professor A.L. Thomas, head of that department. Included are questions from the course's final exam and answers of one of the students. Over 100 students had taken the course since it first began in the 1918-19 school year. The auditorium at the school had two "latest model" Simplex projectors used by student projectionists for film showings six nights per week.

A bit of the history of movies at API is included in the article. Film projection first came to the campus in 1907. By 1911 an Edison projector had been installed for movie showings once a week for students. The College Band provided music, and a student served as projectionist. By 1915 the "College Picture Show" was operating two nights a week with a paid six-man orchestra.

The article is unsigned but at the very beginning the author refers to himself [?] as "the Editor", which might mean the magazine or the section editor. I could find no staff listing for the magazine in those two July 1923 issues.. 

I have found little information so far on the National Anti-Misframe League. The organization appears in issues of the Motion Picture News as early as 1917 and as late as 1925. A Google search returned nothing. The "Forum" was a regular feature of the publication for discussion of matters of interest to League members. The "Pledge" of the Forum found on the last page below is concerned primarily with taking care of the physical condition of film reels.  

In 1926 projection speed of silent films was standardized at 24 fps [frames per second]. Prior to that time projection rates could vary from 16 to 23 fps depending on the shooting speed of each film. I wonder if this change had anything to do with the League's apparent disappearance. However, there would still be the problem of the care of physical reels.

The article has two photographs taken on the API campus. The first shows students in one section of the class posing in front of an iconic building, Langdon Hall. Several cameras on tripods can be seen. The building dates from 1846 and was originally a wood structure on the campus of the Masonic Female Seminary. Moved to the API campus in 1883, the building was bricked and eventually named after Charles Carter Langdon, a school trustee from 1872 until 1899.

The second photograph shows students receiving instruction in the "motion picture laboratory." The building is no doubt one of the engineering department's locations at the time.

Women were admitted to the school in 1892, but none can be seen in these photos. Women were enrolled in engineering programs at API by 1918 or so, but probably most movie projectionists around the country were male.

Professor Albert Lee Thomas taught mechanical and electrical engineering at the school from 1904 until 1956.

Silent film projector from the 1920s

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