As we observe National Distance Learning Week, November 5-12, DeVry University is proud to celebrate its heritage and legacy by recognizing a defining moment in the school’s history. This year marks the 100 th anniversary of Dr. Herman DeVry’s “Theater in a Suitcase” Model E portable movie projector, a technology that pioneered the concept of “visual distance learning” and highlights a timely paradigm shift – the use of technology to facilitate education.
For the first time, moving images, whether of foreign societies in motion or step-by-step instructions for complex tasks, could be distributed to audiences regardless of their location. Fueled by early demand from schools, businesses and churches, variations of DeVry’s 1912 invention would soon become standard equipment in institutions of learning across America. The DeVry Corporation – formed the following year – would sell more than 50,000 units of the Model E and improved versions over the next decades, more than all other makes of similar portable projectors at the time combined.
"DeVry's 1912 silent movie projector was the most advanced education enabling technology of its time," said Michelle Delaney, director of the Smithsonian's Consortium for Understanding the American Experience. "His innovation definitely opened the gateway to the concept of distance learning." DeVry's "Theater in a Suitcase" is part of the Photographic History Collection at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.
Dr. DeVry’s invention was the spark that ignited a life-long dedication to advancing technology for distance learning applications. Used first to bring news clips from a European continent on the verge of World War I into classrooms, DeVry’s Model E was quickly seen as a way to provide visual instruction to distant audiences on a variety of subjects—much like streaming video over the Internet enables today’s online student. DeVry’s projector was most commonly used for the detailed instruction of complex repair of the leading technology equipment of the time, such as movie theater projectors and eventually radios in the 1920s.