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  Herman Casler, Photographer

Herman Casler was born in Sandwich, Illinois on March 12, 1867. He apprenticed to his cousin, inventor Charles E. Lipe, at his Syracuse, New York machine shop from 1889 until 1893. He married Fanny Ehle, and began his professional collaboration with inventor William Kennedy-Laurie Dickson. In 1893, the duo applied for patents for a camera case, shutter, and a novelty camera known as the Photoret. At the height of the detective camera craze, the Photoret set itself apart by being in the form of a pocket watch, which took six hexagonal images that measured 13 mm across on a 1-3/4" disk of celluloid film. This affordable, low-cost camera, also lauded for taking professional quality photographs, enjoyed moderate success in a highly competitive market.

Also in 1893, Mr. Casler was hired as a draftsman at General Electric, and was working on an electric rock drill design that had gotten the attention of designer and inventor Harry Marvin. Within two years, Mr. Marvin started his own business, Marvin Electric Drill Company in Canastota, New York, and named Mr. Casler as corporate treasurer and superintendent. This led to the formation of the K. M. C. D. syndicate with fellow inventors and photographic enthusiasts Elias Koopman, Harry Marvin, Mr. Casler, and William Kennedy-Laurie Dickson, which later expanded to include the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company (one of the earliest motion picture projectors). The Mutoscope was an attempt to compete with Thomas Edison's coin-operated Kinetoscope peepshow that was popular in arcades and amusement parks. Mr. Casler's Mutoscope was a viewer that mounted photographs, which when flipped rapidly, gave the appearance of motion (at 1/400th of a second). It later evolved to include a mirror that could project motion pictures, with the Biograph celluloid film projector and movie camera coming later. Mr. Casler presided over all stages of camera and projector development, and also entered a patent for a Mutograph camera and a variation of the Kinetoscope he helped design with C. Francis Jenkins and Thomas Armat, dubbed the Phantoscope, as well.

In 1895, Mr. Casler partnered with the Lumière brothers to develop an American style version of their Kinora cinematic viewing device. The following year, he and Harry Marvin formed the Marvin and Casler Company that produced motion picture equipment, arcade devices, and various types of machines that included anything from automobile engines to palm readers. Mr. Casler eventually became sole proprietor before finally selling the business in 1919. His later years were spent designing motion picture cameras, projectors, and in developing specialty cinematic equipment. Herman Casler stayed active practically until the very end, filing his final patent in 1937. He died at the age of 72 in his hometown of Canastota, on July 20, 1939. Though largely forgotten by the time of his death, Mr. Casler has been featured in histories of early motion pictures in recent years, receiving long overdue recognition as one of cinema's earliest pioneers.

2017 Biograph (URL:

2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), p. 279.

2017 Herman Casler (URL:

1998 Living Pictures: The Origins of the Movies by Deac Rossell (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press), pp. 94-95.

2008 The Man Who Made Movies: W.K.L. Dickson by Paul Spehr (Hertfordshire, UK: John Libbey Publishing Ltd.), pp. 290-293, 380.

2007 Roll! Shooting TV News: Views from Behind the Lens (Burlington, MA: Focal Press/Elsevier), p. 7.

1897 Scientific American, Vol. LXXVI (New York: Munn & Co.), p. 248.

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2019-01-06 15:17:05

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