An encounter with the work and ideas of photographic pioneer Eadweard Muybridge appears to have spurred Edison to pursue the development of a motion picture system. On February 25, 1888, in Orange, New Jersey, Muybridge gave a lecture that may have included a demonstration of his zoopraxiscope, a device that projected sequential images drawn around the edge of a glass disc, producing the illusion of motion. The Edison facility was very close by, and the lecture was possibly attended by both Edison and his company's official photographer, William Dickson. Two days later, Muybridge and Edison met at Edison's laboratory in West Orange; Muybridge later described how he proposed a collaboration to join his device with the Edison phonographa combination system that would play sound and images concurrently. No such collaboration was undertaken, but in October 1888, Edison filed a preliminary claim, known as a caveat, with the U.S. Patent Office announcing his plans to create a device that would do "for the Eye what the phonograph does for the Ear". It is clear that it was intended as part of a complete audiovisual system: "we may see & hear a whole Opera as perfectly as if actually present". In March 1889, a second caveat was filed, in which the proposed motion picture device was given a name, Kinetoscope, derived from the Greek roots kineto ("movement") and scopos ("to view").
Edison assigned Dickson, one of his most talented employees, to the job of making the Kinetoscope a reality. Edison would take full credit for the invention, but the historiographical consensus is that the title of creator can hardly go to one man:
While Edison seems to have conceived the idea and initiated the experiments, Dickson apparently performed the bulk of the experimentation, leading most modern scholars to assign Dickson with the major credit for turning the concept into a practical reality. The Edison laboratory, though, worked as a collaborative organization. Laboratory assistants were assigned to work on many projects while Edison supervised and involved himself and participated to varying degrees.
Dickson and his then lead assistant, Charles Brown, made halting progress at first. Edison's original idea involved recording pinpoint photographs, 1/32 of an inch wide, directly on to a cylinder (also referred to as a "drum"); the cylinder, made of an opaque material for positive images or of glass for negatives, was coated in collodion to provide a photographic base. An audio cylinder would provide synchronized sound, while the rotating images, hardly operatic in scale, were viewed through a microscope-like tube. When tests were made with images expanded to a mere 1/8 of an inch in width, the coarseness of the silver bromide emulsion used on the cylinder became unacceptably apparent. Around June 1889, the lab began working with sensitized celluloid sheets, supplied by John Carbutt, that could be wrapped around the cylinder, providing a far superior base for the recording of photographs. The first film made for the Kinetoscope, and apparently the first motion picture ever produced on photographic film in the United States, may have been shot at this time (there is an unresolved debate over whether it was made in June 1889 or November 1890); known as Monkeyshines, No. 1, it shows an employee of the lab in an apparently tongue-in-cheek display of physical dexterity. Attempts at synchronizing sound were soon left behind, while Dickson would also experiment with disc-based exhibition designs.
An acre in size, Edison's exhibit at the Exposition Universelle included an entire electrical power station. (Smithsonian Institution/William J. Hammer Collection)The project would soon head off in more productive directions, largely impelled by a trip of Edison's to Europe and the Exposition Universelle in Paris, for which he departed August 2 or 3, 1889. During his two months abroad, Edison visited with...
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