Assignment #1: Edison and Early Cinema -Amanda Alegria

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“Fred Ott’s Sneeze” by William K.L Dickinson (1894)

Edison Kinetoscopic Record for a Sneeze

Thomas Alva Edison‘s vision pertained to capturing vision, recording and reproducing what occurs in life and is experienced through our vision. As an inventor and entrepreneur, he saw a good investment in the burgeoning field of motion picture, and recruited the British William Dickinson to bring success to his laboratory. They would come to produce together the following evolutions of motion picture technology:

  1. the Kinetograph (1888)
  2. the Kinetoscope (1891)
  3. the Kinetophone (1895)

He would be inspired to execute this vision by a demonstration given in his laboratory in 1888 of the Zoopraxiscope by motion picture pioneer, Eadweard Muybridge of his invention. Initially, he invested and believed in the success of Kinetoscope parlors and nickelodeons, but as the Kinetoscopes were limited to individual “movies” and their size and price an unrealistic venture, with his name on the Vitascope’s patent, his vision was truly realized.

His role as an entrepeneur was visible in the patent wars he waged against the companies Biograph, Vitagraph, American Mutoscope–often fighting his claims in court were expensive to challenge, and inventors without the funds that Edison had, broke and intimidated, had no option but to sell the rights to their patents. It would be the Sherman Anti-Trust Act which would ultimately break Edison’s attempted monopoly of the motion picture industry in the early 1900’s.