Although his accomplishments have been long overshadowed by his legendary mentor, Thomas Edison, as well as by the Lumière Brothers, a convincing argument can be made that British engineer William Kennedy (W.K.) Laurie Dickson was the true father of the film industry. Without Dickson's dream of elevating the primitive concept of moving pictures to a form of popular entertainment virtually limitless in scope, the cinema might never have progressed beyond its original status as a novelty, a toy for children. Not only was he the movies' most tireless early supporter, he was also the first true filmmaker, and every director from the Hollywood mainstream to the fringes of the avant-garde owes him a tremendous debt of gratitude.
Born in 1860 in Minihic-sur-Ranse, France, Dickson was 19 when he first contacted Edison to seek work at the inventor's Menlo Park, NJ, laboratory. Dickson's request was promptly refused, but four years later he boarded an oceanliner and traveled to the U.S. to speak to the inventor in person. Edison finally relented, and in 1888 he assigned Dickson to investigate the progress made by several other inventors (including the famed Eadweard Muybridge) who were also working toward the goal of documenting motion. Dickson criss-crossed the globe on the trail of devices capable of making photographs move. Upon absorbing the lessons of various inventors, he also studied the early transparent celluloid of John Carbutt as well as the work of Hannibal Goodwin, an Episcopalian minister who had learned to apply photographic emulsion in order to roll film.