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RG0878.AM:  Leon Forrest Douglass, 1869-1940

Autobiography:  c.1940

Syracuse, Otoe County; Lincoln, Lancaster County, Nebraska; California:  Inventor and manufacturer

Size:  183 pages


Leon Forrest Douglass was born in Syracuse, Nebraska on March 12, 1869, the third of six children born to Seymour James Douglass and Mate Fuller Douglass. His earliest years were spent on homesteads in the Syracuse and Unadilla, Nebraska area. One of the grasshopper plagues of the 1870s caused the family to move to Lincoln, where Leon received his schooling and took up various jobs to help support the family. At age 11, he took a job as a telegraph messenger, and by age 13 was working as an operator at the first telephone exchange in Lincoln. This marked the beginning of his experience with electrical systems. He became interested in the development of early phonographs, and in 1889 sold his first patent for the invention of the first nickel-in-the-slot phonograph. Douglass was one of the organizers of the Victor Talking Machine Co., and it was he, at an earlier job with the Berliner Gramophone Co., who devised the advertising concept of a terrier listening to “His Master’s Voice,” which in 1901 became the trademark on all Victor products.

Douglass experimented in other technical areas in addition to sound. Among his many inventions were the zoom lens and various special effects devices for motion picture cameras, underwater cameras, and in 1916, the first patented process for natural color motion pictures, a process upon which later developments in Technicolor photography were based. Douglass was married to Victoria Adams on February 10, 1897, with whom he had six children. He died September 7, 1940, in San Francisco, California.


This collection consists of a photocopy of the typescript autobiography, “Leon Forrest Douglass: His Story;” 183 p., with illustrations and photographs [photocopies only]. Of special interest for Nebraska and western history are the first two chapters, “Pioneer Ancestors” and “Boyhood,” in which Douglass recounts tales of the civil war and westward movement handed down by his father and grandfather, and his own experiences growing up on homesteads and in Lincoln, Nebraska. The rest of the manuscript chronicles his life, inventions, travels and fortunes through the beginning of the year 1940 [date based on internal evidence].


Autobiography, “Leon Forrest Douglass: His Story;” 183 p. [photocopy only]


Subject headings:

Berliner Gramophone Company

Douglass, Leon Forrest, 1869-1940

Inventors and inventions

Lincoln (Nebraska) — History


Revised TMM         04-20-2007