A Toddler’s First Step in Film Projection




The scientist with the most number of patents is undoubtedly Thomas Alva Edison. He is not only remembered for the electric bulb but also for his contribution to Cinema on the technical front. Edison like many other European and US contemporaries was working madly to bring out a device that would show moving images. His lab situated by then in West Orange, New Jersey was his battle ground where he was fighting with time to get his name for the invention of film projection.

William Kennedy Laurie Dickson may not be a familiar name to many of us as compared with Edison’s.  W.L Dickson was the then photographer in Edison’s company. (Later the company became General Electronics and now popularly known as G.E). In 1888 Edison planned for a device of image projection aimed at engaging the eyes like that of his phonograph to the ears. His preliminary claim was turned down by the patent office. Later he filed a cavet in 1889 with a name Kinetoscope. So he was desperately looking for the design of a device that would turn his dream, a reality.


Muybridge’s works captured the attention of Edison. He sent his willingness to meet him personally. The request of the man with multitudes of inventions under his belt could not be turned by Muybridge. He waited with surprise, wondering why a man of his demeanor would wish to meet him. The reason was simple. Edison was working on designing a device that would record moving images by then. Following his meeting with Muybridge Edison also met Jules Marey of  France who was also working in recording motion of birds in flight. Marey’s work could never be missed in the timeline of history of cinema, as his mobile camera set in the pointing gun was nothing short of a revolutionary idea.

Back to his battle ground Edison hastened his assistants to come up with a design that would fulfill his dream. The work was assigned to Dickson. Together with Edison and his team he did come up with the answer, after much perseverance. The first prototype of Kinetoscope was designed in 1891. It was not much than a peep show machine which used Edison’s bulb as a lighting source. It was the Edison Dickson duo’s attempt for a sound-film system. It was a large box with phonograph kept within, where one would insert money and watch the moving images. It was this device later saw its up gradation as the widely known Bioscope.



Kinetoscope was a machine hatched in hurriedness. The main drawback of the device lies in its incapability of projection to the masses. Though it was a noted improvement in the history of cinema, this idea of catering the show to one at a time belittled its reach.  However it did gather attention, after its first ever public show was unveiled in 1893.

If ever they had sat back and a pondered a little more they would’ve surely come up with a mass projection mechanism as that of the magic lantern. In that case Edison would have bagged the name of the inventor of Cinema, but narrowly missed it. On the other hand in all the accounts of this history, due importance is not given to Dickson and only Edison is projected. It may be because of the ‘super scientist’ image already enjoyed by Edison masking the literally unknown Dickson. It might also possibly be the Capitalistic view that only focuses on the boss and not- Dickson- the employee.

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