Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Author's Department

Speech Communication

First Advisor

B. F. McClerren


This study traced the developments which led to the advent of sound in motion pictures. The hypothesis that the advent of sound in motion pictures was the result of many technical developments made between 1894 and 1930 was supported by this work.

Following a historical methodology the research focused on four questions: 1) How did motion pictures evolve? 2) How did sound become involved with the presentation of motion pictures? 3) What were the technological developments that led to the advent of sound? 4) What were the events that led to the acceptance of the advent of sound?

This study found that the idea of motion pictures has roots in the past. The Chinese Shadow Ball was used as a form of entertainment from 6000-1500 B.C. Leonardo da Vinci described the camera obscura in 1500 A.O. In 1646, Anthanasius Kirchner devised the magic lantern which was developed from da Vinci's ideas. Many inventors modified the magic lantern and photography, developed in the mid 1800s, was applied toward creating the illusion of motion. The first actual motion picture machines were peep-show devices such as Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope.

Sound was a part of motion pictures from the beginning. Even ancient magic lantern shows had musical accompanient. Thomas Edison added his phonograph to the Kinetoscope to provide synchronized accompaniment for his peep-show machines. During the first three decades of the twentieth century many inventors experimented with two main methods of sound accompaniment: the sound on disc and the sound on film.

Inventors met two main technological problems, synchronization and amplication. When film projectors were improved large audiences could view the pictures, then amplication problems had to be solved. Lee DeForest solved the sound problem by applying the audion tube to his Phonofilm system in 1923.

With the right combination of showmanship and public relations the idea of sound films was sold to the public and to the film industry. By 1926 the public was getting accustomed to the medium of sound as a form of entertainment because of the phonograph and the radio. Warner Brothers invested in Vitaphone, a sound on disc system. Their first film, Don Juan became a box office hit. The real turning point in the advent of sound in motion pictures came when Warner Brothers presented their second sound film, The Jazz Singer. The showmanship and magnetism of the star, Al Jolson, excited audiences everywhere. Now the film industry was convinced that there was an audience demand for sound films. All of the major film producers jumped on the bandwagon and ordered sound equipment. Almost overnight Hollywood changed. Many musical films soon followed and by 1930 the silent film era had passed. Sound films were here to stay.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.