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Collection Inventing Entertainment: The Early Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies

Early Edison Experiements with Sight and Sound

Frames from early experimental attempt to create sound motion pictures by the Edison Manufacturing Company. W.K.L. Dickson plays the violin in front of a horn connected to a cylinder recording machine.

From the inception of motion pictures, various inventors attempted to unite sight and sound through "talking" motion pictures. The Edison Company is known to have experimented with this as early as the fall of 1894 under the supervision of W. K. L. Dickson with a film known today as [Dickson Experimental Sound Film]. The film shows a man, who may possibly be Dickson, playing violin before a phonograph horn as two men dance.

By the spring of 1895, Edison was offering Kinetophones--Kinetoscopes with phonographs inside their cabinets. The viewer would look into the peep-holes of the Kinetoscope to watch the motion picture while listening to the accompanying phonograph through two rubber ear tubes connected to the machine. The picture and sound were made somewhat synchronous by connecting the two with a belt. Although the initial novelty of the machine drew attention, the decline of the Kinetoscope business and Dickson's departure from Edison ended any further work on the Kinetophone for 18 years.

In 1913, a different version of the Kinetophone was introduced to the public. This time, the sound was made to synchronize with a motion picture projected onto a screen. A celluloid cylinder record measuring 5 1/2" in diameter was used for the phonograph. Synchronization was achieved by connecting the projector at one end of the theater and the phonograph at the other end with a long pulley.

Nineteen talking pictures were produced in 1913 by Edison, but by 1915 he had abandoned sound motion pictures. There were several reasons for this. First, union rules stipulated that local union projectionists had to operate the Kinetophones, even though they hadn't been trained properly in its use. This led to many instances where synchronization was not achieved, causing audience dissatisfaction. The method of synchronization used was still less than perfect, and breaks in the film would cause the motion picture to get out of step with the phonograph record. The dissolution of the Motion Picture Patents Corp. in 1915 may also have contributed to Edison's departure from sound films, since this act deprived him of patent protection for his motion picture inventions.

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