The Kinetoscope was created was created in 1889 by Thomas A. Edison and William Kennedy Laurie Dickson, a young Scottish American inventor, to help him with his history of motion picture experiments. The Kinetoscope used a strip of celluloid film to create moving images and consisted of a box with a peephole viewer on top.
A series of mirrors were inside the box. There was a light source, and a rotating cylinder that moved the celluloid film strip past the viewer. The film strip looped between two spools, and as the cylinder rotated, it moved the film strip past the light source. This created the illusion of movement. The images were captured on a film strip, which was around 50 feet in length and lasted for about 50 seconds.
The first Kinetoscope parlor was opened in New York City in 1894 and became a popular attraction. People would line up to insert a coin into the machine and watch the moving images. The Kinetoscope parlors were often located in arcades or amusement parks. There usually were several machines lined up, each with a different subject. Some popular subjects included boxing matches, acrobatics, and scenes from daily life.
The cost of a Kinetoscope parlor session in the 1890s varied, but it was typically around 25 cents per person. This was considered an affordable price at the time. This allowed people from all walks of life to experience the excitement of moving images. However, it was still a significant investment for some people, especially those who lived in poverty. As a result, Kinetoscope parlors were more popular among the middle and upper classes.
Thomas Edison made money from both the sale and rental of Kinetoscopes. He also profited from the revenue generated by the Kinetoscope parlors. Edison held the patent for the Kinetoscope. He was able to license the technology to others who wanted to open parlors. In this way, he was able to generate a steady stream of income from the sale and rental of the machines.
Additionally, Edison also owned and operated a number of Kinetoscope parlors himself. He profited directly from the popularity of the moving images. The revenue generated from these parlors was significant. It helped to offset the costs associated with the development and production of the Kinetoscope.
Scaling Up for the Masses
The Kinetoscope was not without its limitations, however. One of the biggest limitations was that it could only be viewed by one person at a time. The moving images were relatively short and not very detailed. Nevertheless, the Kinetoscope was a major step forward in the development of motion pictures, and it paved the way for more advanced devices that would allow for the projection of moving images onto a screen for a larger audience. Surprisingly, despite the existence of the phonograph, commercial sound moving pictures, such as Vitaphone and Movietone, were still a quarter of a century away.
The Vitascope was one such device. It was an early motion picture projector developed by Edison’s rival, the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, in 1896. The Vitascope was a more advanced version of the Kinetoscope. It allowed images to be projected on a screen for a larger audience to view. The Vitascope brought about major change in the motion picture industry. It quickly became the preferred method of exhibiting motion pictures. As is often the case, the Biograph Company started as a result of the work of William Kennedy Dickson, who left Edison to work on his own.
The Kinetoscope was gradually phased out after the advent of the Vitascope and other motion picture projection technologies. It’s likely that it was discontinued in the early 20th century as movie theaters became more widespread and the demand for Kinetoscopes declined.
- Year Started: 1889
- Year Ended: 1900
- Origin Of Name: Derived from the Greek words “kineto” meaning “to move” and “skopein” meaning “to watch”
- Location Sales: North America
- Brand Name Predecessor: N/A
- Brand Name Successor: Vitascope
- Owner Original: Thomas A. Edison
- Owner While In Use: Thomas A. Edison
- Owner Successor: Biograph Company
- Year Resurrected: N/A
- What’s Popular Today: Barco Digital Cinema Projectors
- Naics Code: 333316
- Location Headquarters: West Orange, New Jersey, United States