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Kinetoscope

Pronounced /ˈkɪnɛtəˌskəʊp/Help with pronunciation

In the early 1890s, Thomas Alva Edison experimented with ways to link his then new phonograph with the equally new moving pictures, to make “an instrument which does for the Eye what the phonograph does for the Ear.” To start with he called the machine he created a kinetophonograph, but later it became kinetoscope, which used a series of images on celluloid film. These were in turn created by means of a kinetograph, an early film camera. All three are from the Greek kinetos, movable.

The film ran on rollers inside a cabinet; one person at a time viewed the result through a lens at the top, with the sound from the phonograph piped to his ears through a sort of stethoscope. A reporter visited Edison’s famous workshop in April 1894 and was shown the device by his assistant William Dickson, the leader of the team who had actually developed the devices:

An electric light was burning inside and the noise of rapidly running machinery was audible. The scene that was reproduced was that of a barber shop, and a placard on the wall informed the observer that it was “The Latest Wonder, Shave and Hair Cut for a Nickel.” It pictured a man shaved while two others sat by and enjoyed a joke which one of them had discovered in a comic paper.

Not perhaps the stuff of Academy Awards, but a marvel of the times.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 24 Sep. 2005

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Last modified: 24 September 2005.