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early film projector

drawing of the PhantoscopeThomas ArmatCharles Francis JenkinsOn June 6, 1894, a group of people in Richmond, Indiana, witnessed the first ever showing of a reeled film with electric light before an audience. The "projectionist" was government clerk-turned inventor Charles Francis Jenkins, and the "projector" was a device he called a Phantoscope. The "motion picture" they saw featured a vaudeville dancer doing a butterfly dance.

In March of 1895, Jenkins teamed up with Thomas J. Armat, a fellow budding inventor he met while studying at the Bliss School of Electricity in Washington, D.C., and the two began working to improve the Phantoscope. The two apparently worked well together, for by May 18, 1895 they were ready to apply for a patent. In September of 1895, the two men took their invention to the Cotton States Exhibition in Atlanta, Georgia, where they demonstrated it to the general public for the first time. Whether the demonstration was successful or not is not recorded, but the men disolved their partnership soon after, touching off a bitter dispute over patent rights (both men claimed to be the sole inventor of the Phantoscope, despite the fact that they had already filed for a joint patent).

the VitascopeAfter the split the two worked independently on improving the Phantoscope. Jenkins had his version of the projecting Phantoscope ready by the first week of November 1895, and gave the first public demonstration of it on December 12 at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Armat, upon perfecting his version, approached Raff & Gammon, the owners of the Kinetoscope Company, who were excited by what they saw. After the court decided that the original patent filed jointly by Jenkins and Armat prevailed over those filed by the two men separately and Jenkins sold his patent rights to Armat, Raff & Gammon agreed to help Armat get The Edison Manufacturing Company to manufacture the machine and produce films for it. Thomas Edison agreed to the proposal, provided that the device be advertised as a new Edison invention called the Vitascope.

The first theatrical exhibition of Edison's Vitascope took place on April 23, 1896 at Koster and Bial’s Music Hall in Herald Square, New York City. The film that made the greatest impression on the audience that day was Robert Paul and Birt Acres' Rough Sea at Dover. The Edison Company subsequently developed its own projector known as the Projectoscope or Projecting Kinetoscope in November 1896 and stopped marketing the Vitascope.

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Early Cinema
History of Edison Motion Pictures
Who's Who of Victorian Cinema

Thomas Alva Edison

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This page was last updated on 02/09/2015.

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