Inside the Case Research Lab, at the Cayuga Museum of History and Art in Auburn, an essential piece of modern moviemaking was developed.

Theodore Case worked at the Case Research Lab and used chemistry to create AEO bulbs. Those bulbs were key to the best technology available at the time, for syncing audio to video.

"This is where Fox, today which is 20th Century Studios, sort of got its early start," said Haley Boothe, curator with Cayuga Museum of History and Art.

What You Need To Know

  • The Case Research Lab created technology for syncing audio to video on film

  • 20th Century Studios was originally named Fox Case Corporation

  • Film from early tests of the system still exists

The household media name Fox has ties to Auburn. Work by scientists on syncing sound with film happened in the Case Research Lab in the 1920s.

"They didn’t start out with film being their interest; it was really this research on photoelectric devices," said Boothe.

How does light create sound?

"When it feels an electrical pulse, it flashes, and that flash is what puts a mark on a film strip, and actually 'takes a picture' of sound. So you can see that in the film strip here, so this little train track, is the soundtrack next to the picture," explains Boothe. "The Case Research Lab is the first place that created AEO light, patented it and started using it in a camera system."

After all these years, the film has survived early tests of the system.

"So these films were all shot in our carriage house outside, so everything you see was made here, developed here, and then shown here to the locals as well," said Boothe.

This system became known as Movietone, and in the late 1920s, the Fox Case Corporation was created.

"So that’s why we say here this is the birthplace of commercially successful sound film. It’s not necessarily the birthplace of the first sound film system," said Boothe.

While Case's wasn’t the only lab working on sound technology at the time, it was perhaps the best.

"It may be a little dramatic to say that without Case, Fox wouldn’t have had sound, but maybe they wouldn’t have had it as soon," said Boothe.