Page 1
Early Exhibition

The Kinetoscope, 1893

The Kinetoscope, invented by Thomas Edison, was one of the earliest devices that was mass-produced for film exhibition. It was an individual or “peephole” film viewer. Click the link to read more about it.

Early Exhibition

Fred Ott’s Sneeze (1894)

Fred Ott’s Sneeze: the first copyrighted “recognizable motion picture.” Produced for the Kinetoscope, shot by W.K.L. Dickson for Thomas Edison, 1894.

Early Exhibition

The Mutoscope in Action

The Mutoscope, patented by Herman Casler in 1894. Rival of the Kinetoscope. Operates like a hand-cranked flip book in contrast to the film strip and automatic feeder mechanism of the Kinetoscope.

Early Exhibition

The Cinematographe, 1895

The Lumière Brothers invented the Cinematographe in 1895. Unlike the Kinetoscope and the Mutoscope, the Cinematographe projected the images, changing the concept of film viewing from an individual activity to a group activity. (It’s interesting that thanks to personal mobile devices, the pendulum is currently swinging the other way). The other key advantage of the Cinematographe was that it functioned as both camera and projector, and was smaller and lighter than many of its later competitors.

Early Exhibition

The Biograph, 1895


The Biograph was a device for projecting motion pictures developed by W.K.L. Dickson after his defection from the Edison labs to American Mutoscope Co. (soon to be renamed American Biograph Co.). Dickson was tired of getting little to no credit for his massive contributions to the development of the Kinetoscope. He formed a partnership with Herman Casler–the inventor of the Mutoscope–and they launched the Biograph in 1895. Note the device’s similarities to the Projecting Kinetoscope–released by Edison one year later.

Early Exhibition

The Vitascope, 1896


The short-lived Edison Vitascope Projector. In 1896, to compete with the Cinematographe and the obvious preference of the public for projection viewing over peephole viewing of films, Edison agreed to market the Vitascope projector, reputedly developed by Charles Francis Jenkins and Thomas Armat. However, Edison developed his own projector, the “Projecting Kinetoscope” later that same year, and quickly abandoned the Vitascope.

Early Exhibition

The Projecting Kinetoscope, 1896

Projecting Kinetoscope

Edison’s quick replacement for the Vitascope–returning to his brand name “Kinetoscope.” Pictured is a later model, appearing to feature some sort of electric-powered cranking mechanism.

Early Exhibition

Where We Watched the Movies

The first public venues for watching films were Edison’s Kinetoscope Parlors–posh rooms full of Kinetoscopes, each with a different film playing. Operators stood by to turn the crank for you. However, with the speedy adoption of the projection model for film viewing, new venues had to be found or created.

For the first ten years of American film history, the exhibition model was the vaudeville house, where a slate of films were screened as a replacement for a few vaudeville acts. By the late 1890s, the popularity of motion pictures inspired the birth of the nickelodeon, often simple storefronts converted to makeshift screening rooms or refurbished vaudeville houses. And by 1913, the “movie palace” was born. Click the button and read the linked page about these venues. There is other great information on the site, so browse the other pages if you’re curious.

Early Film Production Methods

Where We Made the Movies

Early filmmakers had two restrictions that governed how and where films were made. First, early film required a great deal of light for proper exposure, and controlled lighting systems had yet to be invented. So filmmakers looked for ways to maximize sunlight. Rooftop studios, rotating studios with removable roofs, outdoor studios, and glass studios are some of the most common solutions. Click through the images above for famous examples and more information (some of this will be on the exam!).

The last image above shows the second restriction filmmakers struggled with–the size of the cameras. While the Cinematographe was fairly small, many of the early systems had extremely large and bulky cameras, making shooting on location extremely difficult. However, inventors were working on solving this problem–and by 1912, we see the development and standardization of smaller, more portable cameras, such as the Bell & Howell camera.