The history of the Kinetograph, the first film camera

Do you know the Kinetoscope and the Kinetograph? The first is the oldest device in the history of cinema while the second is the first film camera in cinema. For information, a film camera is a cinematographic camera which records the photograms of the shots of a film on a photographic film.

These two machines, inseparable, are different in their design. The Kinetograph is used to take pictures while the Kinetoscope is used to view them. This two-machine process was invented by the famous American inventor and industrialist Thomas Edison in 1887-1888. While he had invented the Phonograph, a device which is used to engrave and reproduce a sound via a mechanical process, his ambition was to bring “ for the eye, what the phonograph does for the ear ”.

The history of the Kinetograph, the first film camera
– National Park Service / Wikimedia Commons

He therefore decided, in 1889, to entrust the design of these two machines to his right-hand man, the Franco-British electrical engineer William Kennedy Laurie Dickson.

Thanks to the Kinetoscope, we gradually discovered the cinematographic universe

The Kinetoscope was presented for the very first time to the public and to the press on May 20, 1891, before an assembly of 150 activists from the Federation of Women's Clubs. The Kinetoscope comes in the form of a large pinewood box containing a mechanism that rotates a flexible 35mm film continuously on a photosensitive surface. This device thus gives the illusion of reproducing a recorded movement and the spectators observed a film of less than ten seconds entitled Dickson Greeting through an eyecup by turning the film with the help of a crank. The success was instantaneous.

In 1893, Edison made a first public exhibition of films recorded at the Kinétographe. The inventor had then installed Kinetoscope Parlors in several cities of the United States, in which the spectators could watch various films ranging from 30 to 60 seconds coin the payment of a fixed price at the entrance or via a coin mechanism installed on the devices.

Thomas Edison: Inventor of the Kinetoscope and father of the Home Cinema?

Unfortunately, the competition was not long in coming. In 1895, William Dickson left Thomas Edison and set out to build a device that could compete with the inventions of his former collaborator. He then designed the Mutograph, a device more expensive to produce but less expensive to implement. It is loaded with 70mm film and provides a better quality negative. Likewise, the image is reproduced on photographic paper and not on cinema film. Regarding its use, the Mutograph uses the same visualization method as the Kinetoscope with an eyecup and a crank.

Later, the Lumière Brothers developed the Cinematograph, the world's first projection device, and ousted the Kinetoscope from the market in less than two years. Thomas Edison did not let himself go, however, and launched projection systems called Projectoscope . He also created other devices until 1910 such as the Projecting Kinetoscope, intended for movie theaters and the Home Projecting Kinetoscope, for family use.

In other words, even if the journey of Edison and his Kinetoscope was strewn with pitfalls, we can say that Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope gave birth to the cinema as a whole and to the video projector dedicated to home use.

0 replies on “The history of the Kinetograph, the first film camera”