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.
A virtual recreation of the mechanics of Edison’s Kinetoscope from the Museu del Cinema.
The Mutoscope. The lynchpin of the American Mutoscope Company, Edison’s key competitor from 1895-1908.
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.
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.
A virtual recreation of the mechanics of the Lumière’s Cinematographe from the Museu del Cinema.
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.
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.
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.
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.