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One of Lee's most important inventions was the first sound-on-film process in 1920.

He helped make the movies talk. Mike Adams is writing a book about de Forest and his sound-on-film work

Inventor Freeman Owens

An OSCAR for Lee

Lee de Forest lived in Hollywood and worked on a variety of non-radio technical devices, most notable his Phonofilm process, a way to make the movies talk by adding a synchronized optical soundtrack to the film.

For that 1920 invention, the first sound-on-film process, he received in 1959 an honorary Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The inscription reads:

"Academy Honorary Award to Lee de Forest for his Pioneer Invention which brought Sound to the Motion Picture. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 1959."

The OSCAR is now at History San Jose

The de Forest Phonofilm process allowed the sound and picture to be synchronized

The de Forest technology called PHONOFILM was invented in 1920 and was the very first sound-on-film process. And while almost a decade earlier than the Warner Vitaphone system, it was not the system used in the 1928 film, the "Jazz Singer." The Vitaphone system attempted to synchronize its sound with the picture using a Rube Goldberg device consisting of a record player turntable connected to the film projector. The sound was recorded on an ordinary vinyl disc like the one used today for music. The de Forest process, the one we use today for analogue film audio, uses a device called a light valve to expose a series of light and dark areas right on the film itself, and those areas are read by a photocell and converted to audio. At the right, President Calvin Coolidge speaks on film, the small strip between the sprocket holes and picture is the de Forest sound on film.


Lee de Forest in Hollywood
Movie Marquee for Phonofilm Feature

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