Breaking the Silence on Film:
The History of the Case Research Lab

By Stephanie Przybylek with Marie Eckhardt and Jim Richardson

$9.99 (plus tax & shipping)

ISBN: 0-9673366-1-9
Format: Paperback
Pages: 162
Publishing Information: 1999, The Cayuga Museum


Movietone is to me one of the marvels of the age. In its final analysis it is nothing more or less than the bringing of the whole wide world to your doorstep.

– Quinn Martin, Motion Picture Columnist, 1927

Sound film changed the motion picture experience forever. Its advent in the 1920s mirrored a time of rapid technological change in an increasingly modern society. Breaking the Silence on Film tells the story of Theodore Case and the Case Research Laboratory, a little known facet of film technology history. Intertwined currents of family wealth, scientific enthusiasm, and fortuitous timing propelled a backyard laboratory in Auburn, New York, briefly into the limelight. 

Theodore Case founded the Case Research Lab in 1916. By 1918, he and his associates invented an infrared signaling system that the U.S. Navy used during World War 1. In the 1920s, Case and his chief assistant Earl Sponable collaborated with inventor Lee de Forest on De Forest Phonofilms, eventually mastering sound-on-film technology in the process. The Case-de Forest relationship, an uneasy balance of competition, creativity, and conflict, itself was the stuff of a Hollywood movie. When William Fox of Fox Films purchased the Case Research LAb patents in 1926, the resulting Fox-Case Corporation, with its Movietone sound-on-film system, revolutionized the motion picture industry, ushering in the age of the talkies.

Stephanie E. Przybylek holds an MA in Art History from the University of Delaware. She was the curator of the Cayuga Museum.