French astronomer and motion picture pioneer P. J. C. Janssen was born in Paris on this day in 1824. His birth name was Pierre Jules César; he was variously known as Pierre Janssen or Jules Janssen during his lifetime. Due to a childhood accident, he walked with a severe limp. As a young man he went to work as a bank clerk; but science was his passion, so he enrolled in university to study physics and math, eventually graduating and becoming a professor of physics at an architectural university in Paris. During his lifetime he discovered and invented a great number of important milestones in physics, astronomy and chemistry--and, inadvertently, moving pictures. Though the British scientist Lockyer was independently on to many of the same observations at the same time, Janssen is credited with figuring out how to observe "Solar prominences" with a spectroscope without the aide of an eclipse. Through being an enthusiastic observer of eclipses, he also was the first to observe a gaseous vapor that later proved to be a new element: helium. And he invented a device called a "photographic revolver;" the device allowed for 180 photographs to run for one frame per second. This is technically the first moving picture devise (precursor of the projector). He used this device to run photography of the transition of Venus in 1874 taken in Japan--this is basically the very first movie. This makes Janssen the very first film director and cinematographer. The documentary short is listed in film catalog as Passage de Venus (1874). Janssen would also appear in two documentary shorts from the 1890's by The Lumiere Brothers. The Photographical Congress Arrives At Lyon (1895), is one of the early shorts that remains quite well known to this day. Additionally, Janssen appeared in Discussion de Monsieur Janssen et Monsieur Lagrange (1895). In 1903 Janssen published the famous work Atlas de photographies solaries, which contained more than 6,000 photographs of the sun. Janssen died on 23 December 1907 at the age of 83 in Meudon, Hauts-de-Seine, France. He is buried in the historical Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. His grave is simply marked "J. Janssen."
Film showing the Photographic Revolver