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The Phantoscope Dispute

On November 14, 1924, many years after C. Francis Jenkins had been awarded the 1897 Elliott Cresson Medal and the 1913 Scott Medal for his inventions in motion picture apparatus, his former partner, Thomas Armat, wrote to The Franklin Institute requesting copies of his own correspondence with them between January and October 1898. He also asked for "any paper or report showing just what the Elliott Cresson medal was granted to Jenkins for."

The 1898 correspondence had concerned Armat's protest that Jenkins was not the actual inventor of the Phantoscope. The Institute's investigation carried out at that time had confirmed the validity of the award. Armat's complaint was dismissed.

In reply to the new request, Armat was told that Jenkin's approval would be needed to release information from the case file on his award. Jenkins refused to authorize the copying, and the matter was considered closed.

One week later, in December 1924, a letter was received from Thomas Edison telling The Franklin Institute that he had learned of the award and was requesting official confirmation and details of the award's language. The response was the same as that given Armat—Jenkins authorization was required and, in view of recent experience, was unlikely to be forthcoming.

After a month had passed, the President of The Franklin Institute received a "Personal & Confidential" letter from Samuel Insull, President of Commonwealth Edison Company in Chicago, asking that the 1897 case be re-opened. Thomas Edison's instructions were that Insull raise the matter of "a man by the name of Mr. C. Francis Jenkins" honored as the original Phantoscope inventor and the consequent "gross injustice" done to Edison himself.

The correspondence resumed six months later when Insull informed The Franklin Institute that he was turning the matter of the "alleged inventor" over to Mr. Frank Dyer, Edison's patent attorney.

Mr. Dyer met with Dr. Howard McClenahan, Secretary of the Institute, and Dr. George A. Hoadley, Secretary of the Committee on Science and the Arts, the department responsible for the medal awards.

Dyer's description to Eglin of his meeting with the Institute staff and his review of the case stated that:

Thomas Armat was the true inventor and patent holder and, in his opinion, Jenkins was guilty of "fraud and misrepresentation,"
The committee improperly denied Armat a personal hearing at the time he protested,
The Institute's affirmation of Jenkins' award perpetuated his reputation and ignored the work of Thomas Edison, resulting in misrepresentations in textbooks, the Encyclopedia Britannica, and the National Museum (Smithsonian),
The matter must be corrected since the Institute's reputation and the "grave injustice" done to Armat and Edison was at stake,
There was a member of the original awards committee, Mr. Francis R. Wadleigh, whom Dyer could contact with a view to re-opening the case.

At their meeting in Philadelphia, Hoadley had explained to Dyer the committee rules that (1) the protest period for an award is the first three months that the announcement is published in the Journal of The Franklin Institute, and (2) a case may only be re-opened at the request of a committee member to the chairman.

Subsequent developments included Dyer's notification that the report by Dr. Walter Runge, Wadleigh's approved surrogate, says that the medal was awarded under "probable conditions of fraud and misrepresentation" and Hoadley's obtaining a copy of the judgment made by Justice Hagner of the Washington D.C. Supreme Court in the 1898 case of Daniel vs. Jenkins. The case involved a suit brought on behalf of the Armat brothers for an injunction against Jenkins' manufacture and use of the Phantoscope.

The special committee investigating Dyer's claims and requests consisted of McClenahan, Hoadley, and Harold Calvert, then chairman of the Committee on Science and the Arts. Their opinion, based on the file documents from Armat's original protest and the court judgment, was that the award was justly given and no further action was required. Mr. Dyer was informed of the result.

A package of 16 items was soon received from Frank Dyer. In a December 22, 1925, letter, after receiving these items, Hoadley spelled out the reasons for the committee's continued rejection of the protest after examining all evidence:

The agreement between Armat and Jenkins concerning the Phantoscope clearly states that Armat will supply the funds and indicates, without explicitly stating, that Jenkins is the inventor.
Justice Hagner's opinion in overruling the application for an injunction refers to the May, 1896, publication in "The Photographic Times" of Jenkins' description of his invention. This account pre-dates their agreement. Also included is the judge's opinion, from reading their contract, that Jenkins was the acknowledged ideas man—the inventor.