Today marks a special day in the history of cinema. On this day May 20, 1891, Thomas Edison unveiled to the public the first demonstration of a prototype Kinetoscope to a Convention of the National Federation of Women’s Clubs at his laboratory in New Jersey, along with assistant William Kennedy Laurie Dickson who is now regarded as the main inventor. The Kinetoscope is an early forerunner to the motion picture, which introduced what became the standard of cinematic projection. It was in 1880 after an encounter with photographic pioneer Eadweard Muybridge when Edison decided to develop a system for moving pictures. The very first film Edison and Dickson showed on May 20, 1891 was a three second film known as the Dickson Greeting which is also credited as one of the worlds first films. Directed, produced and starring William Dickson.
By August, 1891 Edison filed three patent applications: the first for a “Kinetoscope Camera”, the second for another type of camera, and the third for an “Apparatus for Exhibiting Photographs of Moving Objects”. The premier of the completed Kinetoscope was held at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences on May 9. 1893. The first public parlor for viewing Kinetoscopes was opened by the Holland Bros. in New York on April 14. 1894, and is also known as the first commercial motion picture house. Just three months after the opening of the first motion picture house came the first ever recorded instance of motion picture censorship. The movie in question was the film of Spanish dancer Carmencita (below). According to one description of her act she “communicated an intense sexuality across the footlights that led male reporters to write long, exuberant columns about her performance”.
By the summer of 1894 it was demonstrated in Paris and became the primary inspiration for the Lumiere brothers to develop the first commercially successful movie projection system.
Fred Ott’s Sneeze (below). Also known as Edison Kinetoscope Record of a Sneeze. This 5 second silent film of one of Edison’s assistants, shot by Dickson in 1894, is the first motion picture to be copyrighted in the United States. It was filmed at the Black Maria Studio at West Orange in New Jersey, and America’s first ever movie studio.
Carmencita, Spanish Dance, 1894. Likely the oldest motion picture in the National Archives’ holdings, this is one of the first films produced by Edison Studio’s.
Cinematography by William Heise and produced by William Dickson.