The Lumiere Brothers’ Works

The Lumiere Brothers

The Lumiere Brothers

Besides making movies in Provence, in the South of France, the Lumière brothers are also known for being the inventors of cinema, which we thought would be worth covering, even though most of the technical action happened in Lyon, France.


With their father Antoine owning a photography shop in Lyon, the young Louis and Auguste developed an interest in the field at an early age. When Antoine later opened a small factory producing photographic paper and plates, he gave his sons the task to create efficient emulsions, using their chemistry and physics background. Louis devised a new formula and, believing they had made a revolutionary sensitive plate,  the family launched into industrial production with a staff of 10 workers. The result was however a commercial disaster, the Lumière family narrowly avoiding bankruptcy.

In 1881, the brothers designed promising new blue plates deciding their father to open a new factory in Lyon-Monplaisir. After starting with 60 dozen plates per day, the daily production reached 100,000 dozens by late 1886, necessitating a staff of nearly 800 workers. These new plates were not only a commercial success but also brought the family fame thanks to several awards, including the Grand Prix in the 1889 and 1900 Paris Exhibitions.


In 1894, after seeing Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope which, through a shutter, showed a succession of views creating animated scenes, Antoine Lumière had the idea to project these images on a screen, giving the project to his sons. In 1894, around Christmas, the cinema was born. While, initially, the cinema was used both for recording and projection, Charles Pathé separated these two processes in 1897 to make them independent.

Facing a high demand for this new invention, the family entrusted the industrial Jules Carpentier with the production. This allowed the brothers to focus on their moving pictures and train operators who were sent to make films around the world, more particularly in Europe, Asia and in the US (Washington, Chicago and Boston, among others).

While Auguste and Louis were mostly developing newsy, travel and documentary-like pieces, other filmmakers such as George Méliès started to focus their efforts on creating fiction works. With the competition for the screen getting harsher, including jealousies and counterfeit devices, the Lumière brothers decided to drop production activities to concentrate on the supply of equipment for movie theaters.

In 1900, the Paris Universal Exposition asked the brothers to project moving images on a big screen (15 x 20 meters) installed in an engine room. With nearly twenty five thousand spectators attending these screenings, this would be their last “blockbuster, the brothers quitting the business after that to pursue scientific activities.

back to Provence Movies featureIn 1919, Louis became a member of the Academy of Sciences while Auguste turned to physio-biological research, becoming also a member of the Academy of Sciences in 1929. Besides their most famous invention, they also contributed many scientific works and both received France’s highest distinction, the Legion D’honneur.

Special Thanks

  • Monsieur Gilles Trarieux-Lumière.
  • Madame N. MorenaAssociation des frères Lumière, Centre National de la Cinématographie.


  • Agenda Lumière1908.
  • L’Age d’Or du Cinéma en Provencearchives municipales de
    Marseille, 1995.
  • Cent ans de cinéma à Marseille Revue Marseille n°174 , 1995.
  • Les Conquérants de la Science, de Robert Fulton à Auguste
    et Louis Lumière
    R. Bondois, Editions O. Lesourd, 1946.
  • Histoire du cinémaGérard Betton, Que sais-je, 1997. 
  • Le livre Guinness des InventionsEdition°1, 1983.
  • Techniques du cinémaVincent Pinel, Que sais-je, 1999.
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Fred Thom

Fred Thom

Editor-in-Chief/Founder/Film Critic at Plume Noire
The founder and editor-in-chief of Plume Noire, Fred Thom covers film festivals and writes movie reviews. He was born in Marseilles, France and is now living in Los Angeles, California.
Fred Thom

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