Edison Receives Patent for Kinetographic Camera

On August 31, 1897, Thomas Edison received a patent for the kinetographic camera, “a certain new and useful Improvement in Kinetoscopes,” the forerunner of the motion picture film projector. Edison and his assistant, W. K. L. Dickson, had begun work on the project—to enliven sound recordings with moving pictures—in hopes of boosting sales of the phonograph, which Edison had invented in 1877. Unable to synchronize the two media, he introduced the kinetoscope, a device for viewing moving pictures without sound—on which work had begun in 1889. Patents were filed for the kinetoscope and kinetograph in August 1891.

Edison kinetoscopic record of a sneeze / taken & copyrighted by W.K.-L. Dickson, Orange, N.J. [Fred Ott’s Sneeze]. W. K.-L. Dickson, photographer, cJan 9, 1894. PH Filing Series Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division
View the film which was reconstructed from the paper print. Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze by W. K. L. Dickson, one of Edison’s assistants, January 7, 1894.

The kinetoscope (viewer), which Edison initially considered an insignificant toy, had become an immediate success about a decade earlier. The invention was soon replaced, however, by screen projectors that made it possible for more than one person to view the novel silent movies at the same time.

The Black Maria, Edison’s First Motion Picture Studio, West Orange, New Jersey, used between December 1892 and January 1901. Inventing Entertainment: the Early Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies. Motion Picture, Broadcasting & Recorded Sound Division

Edison and Dickson continued to experiment with motion pictures in the late 1880s and into the 1890s. Dickson designed the Black Maria, the first movie studio, which was completed in 1893. The name was derived from the slang for the police paddy wagons that the studio was said to resemble. Between 1893 and 1903, Edison produced more than 250 films at the Black Maria, including many of those found in the collection, Inventing Entertainment: the Early Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies at the Library of Congress. Most of the films are short, as it was believed that people would not stand the “flickers” for more than ten minutes.

Turn-of-the-century copyright law provided protection for photographs, but did not yet have a provision for motion pictures. Therefore, a number of early film producers protected their work by submitting paper contact prints (paper prints) of the film’s individual frames – usually on long strips of paper – for copyright registration. By the time the law was amended in 1912, some 3,500 paper prints had been deposited for registration in the United States Copyright Office within the Library of Congress. This practice proved fortuitous, as many early films have been lost due to disintegration and the high combustibility caused by early film’s nitrate base. Many of these paper contact prints were converted back to film in the 1950s, and hundreds were digitized in the 1990s.

Three Acrobats. Thomas A. Edison, Inc., March 20, 1899. The American Variety Stage: Vaudeville and Popular Entertainment, 1870-1920. Motion Picture, Broadcasting & Recorded Sound Division

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