Behind the Cayuga Museum stands the Case Research Lab, the Birthplace of Talking Movies!

Theodore Case & Earl Sponable

Theodore Willard Case was born in 1888 into a house of wealth and scholarship.  His father Willard Case (1857-1918) was fascinated with the budding field of electricity, and Theodore inherited this love of science.  Ted graduated from Yale in 1912 and in 1914 he and Willard began setting up laboratories in the basement of their homes at 196 Genesee Street and Casowasco, the Case family estate on Owasco Lake.

Willard Case inherited the Willard estate at 203 Genesee Street in 1916.  He remained at 196 Genesee Street, and Theodore moved into the Willard home.  Willard and Theodore converted a greenhouse into a scientific laboratory the same year. They called the enterprise the Case Research Lab (CRL) and hired Earl Sponable as an assistant.

The Case Research Lab Museum exhibits the working spaces of the darkroom, chemistry lab, and recording studio; the first sound camera; experimental recording equipment; and a history of the commercialization of sound film including such ventures as Phonofilms, Fox-Case Movietone, and Fox Films (now 20th Century Fox).

The Case Research Lab collection contains the equipment, complete lab notebooks, volumes of technical drawings and photographs, extensive business and personal correspondence, manuscripts and reports, patents, receipts, and scrapbooks spanning the 18 year history of the Lab.  The collection also includes archival materials from Earl Sponable, which were donated to the Cayuga Museum by his daughter, Catherine “Mimo” Sponable, in the 1990s.

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Feel like you’ve only scratched the surface? Come visit, take a tour, and learn more about the fascinating story of the Birthplace of Sound Film!

Guided tours of the Laboratory will be unavailable for the remainder of 2021. Guided Tours will be available for the Case Lab Collection located on the Second Floor of the Cayuga Museum!