finished 'Kinetoscope' could, if Edison’s original vision
had prevailed, turned out quite different.
Employing W.K.L Dickson in the Spring of 1883,
Edison soon noted his enthusiasm and value and made him his
assistant. Five years later in 1888, inspired by his Photograph,
Edison set Dickson to work on developing, “...an instrument
which does for the Eye what the Phonograph has done for the
Ear, which is the recording and reproduction of things in
Early experiments were tried using ideas developed
from the phonograph - a cylinder based device onto which a
series of microphotographs would be arranged in a spiral formation
- like the recorded tracks in the tinfoil of a phonograph.
Edison envisaged projection to be achieved by
shining a light source through the microphotographs from inside
In the October of 1888 when Edison’s first patent
was filed, several names were discussed including the Kinesigraph
and the Mutograph with Edison eventually settling for the
Dickson, it seems did the majority of the work
on the Kinetoscope and by early 1889 work was clearly moving
along. Refinements to the original description were made regarding
the addressing of the intermittent motion problem.
Initial ideas for getting intermittent motion
included the use of electric sparks inside the cylinder which
provided intermittent illumination; and a Start-Stop movement
of the cylinder itself.
The photographic medium for presenting the microphotographs,
had also required serious thought. Experimentation with coating
the cylinder with photographic emulsion was considered but
A breakthrough came with the launch of photographic
quality celluloid by John Carbutt. In June of 1889 the Edison
Laboratory ordered 12 Carbutt film sheets - each sheet measuring
twenty by fifty inches.
After much experimentation the cylinder device
was clearly at a dead end and with the results produced proving
successful but highly impractical, Dickson and Edison turned
their attention to film.
Edison had already seen flexible film used
in Marey’s Chronophotographe camera, Dickson acquired some
film stock and in May 1891 a prototype Kinetoscope was unveiled
using flexible film.
The initial prototype was actually a 'taking
device' - camera, but could be converted to a projector by
shining a light through the film and lens. In a demonstration
to a Convention of the National Federation of Women’s Clubs,
invited by Mrs Edison, the audience members in turn could
view the moving pictures through the aperture where the lens
The Kinetoscope mechanism was driven by an electric
motor. The peephole version which is recognised as “The Kinetoscope”
was ready in prototype form at the end of the Summer, 1892.
It comprised and upright wooden cabinet, four foot high with
a peephole in the top. Magnifying lenses in the peephole enlarged
the film - a continuous band around fifty foot long which
was arranged around a series of spools.
The film was transported round the Kinetoscope
by an electrically driven sprocket wheel at the top of the
box which engaged corresponding sprocket holes in the 35mm
film. Illuminating the film was an electric lamp which was
separated by a shutter providing intermittent light illuminating
each frame in turn and producing a moving image.