So who invented the Ellipsoidal Reflector Spot light anyway? Probably not who you think.
A great read! Reposted with permission from Jeffrey M. Gress, an Associate Professor of Theater Technology at Capital University.
Originally posted on January 6, 2017
To connect with Jeff or read more of his posts go to: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeff-gress-87257910
So- I'm an old guy now. I look nostalgically at the old gray Century 6X9's I periodically bump into in my work. I have about 50 65Q Fresnels in my inventory that I'm sweet on. I remember working autotransformer boards and patch bays with sliders. Several years ago, I was in Kansas City for the national USITT Conference. USITT does a nice job pointing out Fellows of the Institute who have unique and long term knowledge about the lighting industry. Talking with these men and women is always a delight and I continue to grow in my appreciation of the working conditions in which they worked and transformation in our current opportunities and tools. As I walked the conference floor I would approach a Fellow and ask, "Who invented the ERS?" The answers surprised me.
As a young lighting student I was introduced to the work of Stanley McCandless. It was he who was identified with the development of so many ideas, processes, and pieces of equipment introduced in the decades that followed the advent of AC systems that predominated from the 1930's until the change to this century. McCandless was an inventor, artist, businessman, home light fixture designer, architectural consultant, teacher, mentor, and a consulting engineer, along with his associate and then assistant E. B. Kirk. I was taught that McCandless actually created the ERS as part of his work at Yale- as the story was told and repeated in various forms.
The surprise in my Kansas City conversations was that there was confusion. Actually, there was some heated contradiction. There evolved in my conversations a group with proof that it was McCandless and group with proof that it was the Kliegl Brothers. The stories were fascinating. The most common was that Mr. McCandless created the ERS fixture by mating an ellipsoidal reflector in a house light fixture for his consulting work on the construction of Radio Music Hall. There is some truth in that. Another was that the Kliegl Brothers created it and a few months later Ed Kook's company Century Lighting created the first commercially viable production model for rentals on Broadway, something the early Kliegl company was not interested in doing- rentals. For five days I wandered through talking to current suppliers and men twice my age and friends in the industry who designers and the confusion grew.
An odd story that popped up was that notion that it was actually a lighting lamp designer in the General Electric lab spaces in Brook Park, Ohio that actually patented the first ERS. After the end of my inconclusive casual survey, I headed home to Ohio and kept digging. The Brook Park story I chased for almost a year. That product was true and parts of its development was included in the Century Lighting engineering archives that were eventually purchased by Strand Lighting. Strand subsequently was purchased by now-owner Phillips and archivist with Phillips who came in from Strand with the acquisition told me about pallets of old Century archives sitting on loading dock in Texas in which, it was supposed, proof of the Century Leko fixtures creation would lie. If you are new to the fixture, the Leko was actually named after the two men who operated Century Lighting- Joseph Levy and Ed Kook. LEKO.
Another divergence in this story came when I found a patent filing from 1923 for a "spotting light" that looked remarkably like the old silver base-up housing and round body with a single step lense of the first generation Kliegl ERS fixtures. This would have been a decade prior to the Kliegl's work and Century's LEKO.
Eventually, my search came to the attention of Dr. Joel Rubin. Dr. Rubin holds a PhD in Electrical Engineering from Stanford where he did his doctoral thesis in the evolution of electric light from 1890 to 1950. His thesis is exhaustively detailed and thorough in its discussion. Hard to find, but an impressive read when you can. Dr. Rubin began working with the Kliegls in New York and eventually became their General Manager. Personally, I remember him as the President of USITT when I first joined. I remember well his call to service and volunteer leadership that was the heritage of the Institute since its founding he shared in farewell address at his retirement. It seemed the logical step to ask Joel and his response in the form of letters, catalog cuts, and pictures solved the mystery.
For Dr. Rubin it was no mystery at all. Included in the document was a typed letter on Yale University letterhead signed by Stanley McCandless (Mac) himself. This is evidently a letter in response to Dr. Rubin's earlier request for information about the industry and catalogs or other information about lighting between 1910 and 1920. Mr. McCandless shares that, "Century was founded by J. Levy and Ed. Kook in 1929 when they both resigned from Display to form their own company. (side note- there are several Display Lighting catalogs and documents in the Yale University archives. Display was an early pioneering firm in designed architectural lighting for retail, an activity that Mr. McCandless pursued for several decades in addition to his research and teaching at Yale as well as his consulting and production design centered around his office that he shared with E. B. Kirk, his assistant and office manager.)
McCandless continues in his letter, "There was an engineer, Benford, who wrote several articles in the GE Review for October 1926, I believe, in which he discussed the use of ellipsoidal reflectors as an optical system for spotlights and even slide projectors." McCandless then shares that his soon-to-become assistant, E. B. Kirk, furthered that work by, ... investigating all forms of reflectors and came up with a half ellipse and a plane mirror at axis and incorporated this into a down light for the Center Theater in New York." (This is the theatre located in Rockefeller Center originally named the RKO Roxy and then changed to the Center Theatre ). Kliegl brothers manufactured the house fixtures Kirk designed.
McCandless' last line in his letter to Rubin reads, "This was in 1931 or 1932. Kliegl made it (the house down light above) and took most of the credit. Kliegl also made the first ellipsoidal spotlight, but at that time Kirk was employed by Century (under McCandless' supervision as a consultant) to design their unit and a good job he did, too."
In Dr. Rubin's letter to me, he also shared a Letter to the Editors of Live Design Magazine about this topic. In this article for the March 2011 magazine, Dr. Rubin provides additional information- both about the fixture and ideas about why the long running confusion. "This response is the the section "1930's: Ellipsoidals" in which the statement is made "the ERS is commonly attributed to engineer Joseph Levy and Edward Kook...." (of Century Lighting). That is not inaccurate, since it depends upon the word "commonly," but it is historically incorrect. It is a fact that the first ellipsoidal reflector spotlights were manufactured and introduced into the field by Kliegl Bros."
Rubin continues, "Commonly attributed" seems due primarily to the fact that "Lekolight" (Levy and Kook) caught on as a kind of generic description, while "Klieglight" had a history more linked to bright arc sources and "klieg-eyes. It is also true that there are numerous references to the potential use of the ellipsoidal reflectors in lighting well prior to the 1930's."
In the Live Design article, Dr. Rubin clarifies Kirk's work, "Those units (the Center Theater down lights) were built by Kliegl, the principal designers being Herbert Kliegl and Richard Engelken, a Kliegl nephew. Working for the engineers on the the project was Edward. B. Kirk (later in partnership with Stanley McCandless as lighting consultants)."
As final proof, Dr. Rubin shares that... "Herbert Kliegl provided a demonstration of the Kliegl theatre ellipsoidal in April of 1933 to a meeting of the Illuminating Engineering Society in Chicago." In addition, the 1934 Kliegl catalog includes photographs of the Kliegl ERS fixtures installed in the Waldorf Astoria ballroom and the Stanley Theater in 1933. Century's LEKO fixture was introduced in their product catalog published in 1934.
So- that is the answer. Kirk, working with McCandless, Levy, and Kook, created a fixture using similar concepts but the Kliegls were first to market by several months. So an obvious question is why do we use (or did use for a long time) the term "leko" and "Kliegl" as the generic term for an ellipsoidal reflector spotlight? I have a story about that as well for another time.
January 6, 2016