Look Inside the

Case Research Lab Collection

Theodore Case (1888-1944) was an Auburn scientist and inventor of the first commercially successful sound-on-film system. Case lived in the mansion which now houses the museum from 1916 to 1930 and converted a greenhouse on the property into his laboratory. Upon his death, he left the contents of the lab to the museum. 

The Case Lab Collection includes laboratory notebooks, correspondence, purchase receipts, and patents, along with scientific materials and equipment and several of Case’s original test films. 

The museum also holds the Earl Sponable Collection. Sponable was Case’s lab partner and was instrumental in the development of the sound-on-film system. Sponable continued working in the film industry until the 1970s, overseeing Movietone News crews and working on the development of Cinemascope as Director of Research for Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. The Earl Sponable Collection includes early movie stills and promotional images, magazine articles, several of Sponable’s notebooks, and transcripts of speeches.

You can download a PDF Index of the contents found in the Case Research Laboratory notebook by clicking the button below.

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Case Research Laboratory Capital Stock Page

This capital stock page is from a book of identical documents in our collection. Some of the pages are filled out with purchaser information but the majority of them are blank like this example. People who worked for Case, such as his lawyer John Taber, are among the individuals who purchased shares in the company.

Thalofide Cell in Clear Glass Bulb Galvanometer Test

One of the most used devices in the Lab was a galvanometer which detects and measures small amounts of electrical current. This graph depicts an experiment that was conducted with the Lab’s Thalofide Cell on a galvanometer, showing the trend of electrical activity of the cell when exposed to light. These tests allowed the Lab to determine if a cell worked properly so that they could use it for research or sell it commercially.

Silver Antimony Mineral Galvanometer Test

Another use of the galvanometer was measuring the electrical reactivity of minerals. This graph depicts a test of the mineral silver antimony. The mineral would be placed in a small oven, heated to very high temperatures, and measured by the galvanometer over time. This graph shows that as the temperature increased the mineral became more electrically reactive. This research led to the development of the photoelectric cells produced by the Lab such as the Barium Cell, Dyscrasite Tube, and the Thalofide Cell.

Thalofide Cell Type LS

The Thalofide cell was one of the first inventions of the Lab and the first commercial product. This device can receive signals from invisible light, especially infrared light, which can then be converted into electrical signals. During WWI this cell was utilized in a top-secret Naval signaling system to communicate ship-to-ship invisibly. Later, it was used as the primary device in sound on film audio playback.

Thalofide Cell

This is a later type of Thalofide Cell that the Case Lab produced.

Patent for Photo-Electric Cells, 1921

From their earliest experiments, the Case Research Lab was highly focused on photoelectric cells. Case imagined various uses for such a cell, from a daylight recording system to the infrared signaling system. These cells became the basis for his sound-on-film system.

Page from Lab Notebook, 1922-1923

Theodore W. Case and his associates took meticulous notes regarding their experiments and discoveries in the Lab. Many of the pages resemble this one, showing hand-drawn sketches of electrical circuits and notes on if their ideas worked or failed. In the sketch from December 31, 1922 Ted writes, “This does not allow the lamp to arc and allows of a good bright adjustment.”

Page from Lab Notebook, 1927

There are many pages such as these in the Lab collection. When Case or another Lab employee had an idea or breakthrough, they would write a description and have it witnessed by a fellow employee, in this case Lab stenographer Bernadine Schneider.

Earl Sponable

Black and white photograph c.1916 of Earl Sponable conducting an experiment with the Case Research Laboratory's copper cell device. The early lab experiments focused on experiments into how different minerals reacted with sunlight. Earl Sponable joined the lab in 1916 after graduating from Cornell. He became instrumental in the development of sound film technology and went on to work for the Fox Corporation as head of Research and Development.

Ted Case

Black and white negative of Ted Case on the grounds of 203 Genesee Street Auburn NY, c.1920.

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