Alexis, Michel and Eugène Werner

French entrepreneurs in audio-visual technology

On 22 August 1893 the brothers Michel and Eugène founded Werner Frères et Cie to sell typewriters, duplicators, and similar machines, and by August 1894 were selling, from their shop at 85 rue de Richelieu, Paris, Edison Phonographs, claiming to be the only French agents. They saw a Kinetoscope in September, and in October opened the first French Kinetoscope parlour at 20 boulevard Poissonniere, showing an Annabelle dance, The Cockfight, A Bar Room Scene, Blacksmith's Shop and The Barbershop. That same month they dissolved their original company, and Michel and the brothers' father Alexis and a financier, a lady named Adrienne Charbonnel, formed a new company; Le Kinetoscope Edison, Michel et Alexis Werner, to concentrate on the new machine, and later Michel and banker Henry Iselin formed another company to exploit the Kinetoscope throughout France. It was probably at 6-8 place de l'Opera (where the Werners had a shop) that Antoine Lumière saw the Kinetoscope, and set his sons the task of making a moving picture machine.The Werners were also involved with a Kinetoscope company set up in Brussels, Belgium, and in June 1895 set up a fictitious company to exploit the Edison Kinetophone. There is considerable evidence that they were soon attempting to break away from the Edison product. On 18 June 1895, Eugène patented a 'kinetoscope' - basically the Edison machine but with a cylindrical shutter replacing the disc shutter. It is also possible that they obtained a camera from Charles Chinnock in America. The Kinetoscope/Kinetophone ventures were not financially successful, and soon failed. The following year, the Werners patented a number of film devices, and produced several different camera/projectors. In 1899, the Werners left the film business and set up a factory to produce cycles and motor cars.

Stephen Herbert