Thomas Edison is best known for his development of the eletric light bulb and the phonograph (the predecessor of the record player). He was also the first person successfully to demonstrate moving pictures to the public. His early experiments followed the same pattern as his phonograph, with the pictures recorded on to a wax cylinder. However, by 1889, he had passed the project to a young Scotsman, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson, who began work on a camera using celluloid film.
This camera was called the kinetograph. It used rolls of film about 35mm wide, and these film strips carried rows of holes down the sides to allow the film to be pulled through the camera at an even rate. These rows of holes still appear on both ciné-film and films for use in ordinary cameras.
Dickson developed a viewer for the films which was called a kinetoscope. You can see from the picture that it could only be used by one person at a time, lookng through the viewing piece at the top of the box. The film ran backwards and forwards round a series of pulleys, and was held as a continuous loop, so that it could be watched over and over again without rewinding.
Edison's earliest films lasted for about 20 seconds. They were first demonstrated to the public in 1893 at the Chicago World's Fair. By the following year, a 'kinetoscope parlour' had been opened in New York, with ten machines showing different films. The first demonstration in London was in October 1894. A similar demonstration in Paris in the summer of that year was seen by two brothers from Lyon, who took the next step in the development of the cinema. You can read their story on the next page.
You can find out more about Edison at the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television.
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