The Kinetoscope: A British History

The Kinetoscope: A British History

by Richard Brown, Barry Anthony


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The position of the kinetoscope in film history is central and undisputed; indicative of its importance is the detailed attention American scholars have given to examining its history. However, the Kinetoscope's development in Britain has not been well documented and much current information about it is incomplete and out of date. The purpose of the book is, for the first time, to present a comprehensive account of the unauthorized and often colorful development of British kinetoscopes, utilizing many previously unpublished sources. The commercial and technical backgrounds of the kinetoscope are looked at in detail; the style and content of the earliest British films analyzed; and the device's place in the wider world of Victorian popular entertainment examined. A unique legal case is revealed and a number of previously unrecorded film pioneers are identified and discussed.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780861967308
Publisher: John Libbey Publishing
Publication date: 10/01/2017
Pages: 180
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Richard Brown is author of The History of the British Mutoscope and Biograph Company and editor of the facsimile edition of W. K-L. Dickson's The Biograph in Battle: Its Story in the South African War.

Barry Anthony is author of Murder, Mayhem and Music Hall and contributor to Who's Who of Victorian Cinema; the Encyclopaedia of Early Cinema; and Directors in British and Irish Cinema: A Reference Companion.

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The Kinetoscope: An International Perspective

Inventions multiply with increasing rapidity, and discoveries flash as lightning over the land. We cannot, if we would, shut our eyes to the results. J. B. McClure, Edison and his Inventions, 1889.

The world's first practical devices for taking and viewing motion pictures were developed in the United States during the early 1890s. Thomas Alva Edison, the 'Wizard of Menlo Park', had been prompted to begin experiments after a meeting with the celebrated chronophotographer Eadweard Muybridge in 1888. During their conversation, it was suggested that they should combine the phonograph and the Zoopraxiscope projector to create sound-accompanied, motion pictures of famous actors and singers. The limitations of Muybridge's machine made such a scheme impracticable, but Edison, in collaboration with his employees William Kennedy Laurie Dickson and William Heise, started to work on a system which 'does for the eye what the phonograph does for the voice'.

By 1892 the Edison Laboratory had constructed an electrically driven movie camera, employing a 35mm film format that was to become the international standard for many years to come. It did not take long before Edison was predicting the imminent arrival of full-length reproductions of plays and operas, projected life size onto a screen with closely synchronised sound. But prophecy was replaced by pragmatism when the prototype 'Kinetoscope' was publicly unveiled at the Brooklyn Institute on 9 May 1893. The device proved to be an unassuming cabinet peepshow delivering a tiny moving image that lasted for just 20–30 seconds. A 40-foot celluloid band ran continuously (not intermittingly) over rollers and was viewed by electric light through a revolving shutter. Financial considerations based on the exploitation of the phonograph had caused Edison to reject the uncertain profitability of projection for the assured income of coin-operated devices. Since the late 1880s he had witnessed the rapid spread of automatic vending machines, at first providing simple items such as sweets and matches and later offering an extended range of products and services. In a flourishing network of 'nickel-in-the-slot' phonograph parlours across the United States, Edison had ready-made exhibition venues for his invention.

The Birth of Commercial Films

Following the construction of a studio, nicknamed 'The Black Maria' after a supposed resemblance to a police arrest vehicle, commercial production of films started on 6 March 1894. The choice of the first subject demonstrated an attachment to celebrity that had been present at the earlier meeting of Muybridge and Edison. Back in 1888 it was proposed that images of renowned Shakespearian actor Edwin Booth were married to phonograph recordings of his voice, now, in March 1894, the internationally famous strongman Eugene Sandow was asked to flex his impressive muscles for public admiration. With the heavy, studio-bound Kinetograph camera and a restricted stage area, performers from the theatre, music hall and circus proved dependable participants in the first films. As Charles Musser observes 'Dickson and Heise kinetographed over seventy-five motion pictures in 1894, and virtually everyone drew on some type of popular commercial amusement'. Although at first attractive, such predictable content was eventually to become a key factor in the kinetoscope's decline.

The Edison Manufacturing Company assumed responsibility for producing the motion picture hardware, whilst marketing was put in the hands of the Kinetoscope Company, a consortium that included Alfred O. Tate (Edison's former business manager); Norman C. Raff; Frank R. Gammon and the Canadian entrepreneur Andrew M. Holland. Already leading exponents of Edison's phonograph, the brothers Andrew and George Holland became the first commercial exhibitors of motion pictures. Ten kinetoscopes were put on display at 1155 Broadway, New York, on 14 April 1894, followed by the same number at a Masonic Temple, Chicago on 17 May. By the end of the year the proliferation of machines throughout the United States had provided a substantial boost to Edison's fortunes. But, following an extremely lucrative financial year (April 1894 – February 1895), sales of film-related business fell away dramatically, giving a clear indication that, in its current form, the kinetoscope had a limited future. In April 1895 Edison attempted to revive public interest by coupling the phonograph and kinetoscope to create the kinetophone, but the lack of genuine synchronisation between sound and image meant that the device received an unenthusiastic reception. The same month saw the multi-talented Dickson leaving Edison's employment to concentrate on developing projected motion pictures.

The story so far will be familiar to students of early film history. Edison's archives and those of Raff and Gammon have provided generations of scholars with a rich source of primary evidence to be interpreted and re-interpreted. Historians such as Terry Ramsaye, Gordon Hendricks, Charles Musser, David Robinson,

Ray Phillips and Paul Spehr have differed on important aspects of emphasis and attribution, but all have agreed on the position occupied by the kinetoscope as the earliest practical means of motion picture exhibition. In the rest of the world the lack of similar archives and sometimes, it seems, a reluctance to accept the kinetoscope as anything more than a historical curiosity, have largely impeded research. It was not until widespread digitalisation of original material that it became possible to construct a detailed account of the kinetoscope's British, and to a lesser extent, international development.

* * *

Continental Commerce

Edison's kinescope was shown, at a private preview, in London on 17 October 1894. The device's debut, and consequently the birth of moving pictures in Britain, would probably have taken place around two months earlier had the master plan of Colonel George Edward Gouraud, late of the 3 New York Cavalry, come to fruition. As Edison's European agent for many years, Gouraud (1842–1912) had been responsible for the exploitation of the new 'Perfected' phonograph since 1888. With a close relationship to Edison and a network of technically minded associates it came as no surprise when, on 17 May 1894, he agreed to pay $20,000 for 100 kinetoscopes. But the colonel's suitability for exploiting the new form of entertainment was open to question. Some felt that he had mishandled Edison's earlier invention in Britain and Europe, continuing to promote the phonograph as an isolated scientific novelty at the time it was rapidly becoming a popular form of recreation in the United States. Whether he sensed he was not the right man for the new venture or whether the large financial outlay proved beyond his means, he was happy to step away from the deal when two fellow Americans made their bid to become Edison's kinetoscope agents in territories beyond the United States and Canada. On 12 August 1894 Franck Zevely Maguire (1859–1910) and Joseph Deyhoe Baucus (1864–1928) were granted the concession for the kinetoscope in South America, the West Indies, Australia and Mexico. Within a month, on 3 September, they obtained sole European rights, an agreement that was extended on 30 October to cover Africa and Asia. To consolidate their international campaign Maguire and Baucus joined with Irving Ter Bush (1869–1948) to found the Continental Commerce Company on 12 September 1894.

The triumvirate seemed well-suited to introduce the kinetoscope to the world. Although he was the youngest of the three, Bush had already travelled widely, circumnavigating the globe on a sailing ship in 1888. On the death of his oil tycoon father in 1890 he became a millionaire, although he continued to work as a clerk for the Standard Oil Company. Franck Maguire was an entrepreneur who had promoted the Edison phonograph and other inventions during the 1880s. A colleague, Charles Urban, remembered that 'he dressed well, was bright and convincing in his arguments and inspired confidence'. As the son of a respected Democrat politician, Baucus had received a good education, attending Princeton University and Columbia Law School before becoming an attorney in a Wall Street law firm. He recovered from a railway accident that killed his wife on their honeymoon to become an urbane pleasure-seeker with a fondness for Paris. The three men were keen to impress Edison with their energy and business acumen, hoping to establish centres throughout Europe from which they could promote all his inventions.

Earliest European Exhibitions

The introduction of the kinetoscope into Europe had already been widely anticipated in the scientific and popular press and several machines had made their way across the Atlantic by the summer and early autumn of 1894. Colonel Gourard had acquired a sample kinetoscope which he returned to Edison by November 1894, while Irving Bush probably arrived in London by August 1894, ordering ten kinetoscopes and five films. Early in 1895 it was reported that six kinetoscopes sent by Edison to 'a friend on the Continent' had been seized by foreign customs authorities and sold. But the first exhibition of an Edison kinetoscope in Europe was arranged by a group who were outside the inventor's circle of associates. In July 1894, a kinetoscope, owned by American entrepreneurs and purchased in the United States was shown in Paris to Henri Flamans, the editor the periodical Le Magazine Pittoresque. Two films were demonstrated, a Spanish Dance (presumably Carmencita) and, one of the most popular early kinetoscope subjects, the 1893 version of Barber Shop Scene. Falsely claiming to have worked as an electrical engineer in Edison's laboratory for nearly two years, the owner of the device identified himself as Monsieur Georgiadeo.

On 16 July 1894, the same (or perhaps a companion) machine gave the first public display of motion pictures in Europe. The venue, on one of Paris' four grand boulevards, was appropriate for the unveiling of a new entertainment technology. Opened in June 1891, the Salle des Dépêches of the popular weekly newspaper Le Petit Parisien provided Parisians with instant news updates, relaying parliamentary debates, stock market details and sporting commentary via a series of telegraph printers. Situated at 20 Boulevard Montmartre, the establishment was redolent of the Belle époque, standing out from the busy pavement cafes and up-market shops with an ornate glass and cast-iron entrance canopy. Inside, original designs for some of Paris' most famous illustrated periodicals and a selection of theatrical memorabilia adorned the walls. On its installation, the kinetoscope attracted a rush of curious visitors, including the famed chronophotographer Ètienne-Jules Marey. An account of the show published in Le Petit Parisien on 18 July 1895 provided a detailed description of the device, although just how the august analyst of human and animal locomotion reacted to the slapstick antics of Barber Shop Scene was not recorded. The initiators of this historic exhibition can be identified as 'the Greeks', a partnership of hitherto obscure merchants who have been likened by Deac Rossell to 'fast-disappearing quarks influencing the chain reaction in a laboratory and then vanishing forever'.

Although previously recorded as consisting of only two individuals, the alliance formed to promote the kinetoscope in Europe appears to have been four, possibly five-sided. Until now the only background details concerning the Greeks have been passing references by Frederick A. Talbot and Terry Ramsaye. The former, in 1912, wrote that they were 'a greengrocer; the other was a toymaker', whilst the latter, in 1926, reported that 'according to tradition, they had been candy merchants or green grocers'. Both sources agree that they had been based in London and had travelled to the United States where they came across the kinetoscope. In fact, they had not made the journey from London or any other European city, but were already ensconced in New York as members of the large Greek immigrant community. Research has established that the men were naturalised Americans, originating in Turkey, but of Greek extraction. George A. Georgiades, who was born in Smyrna in 1859, left Turkey in 1877 and became an American citizen in 1883. On his passport application of 9 November 1893 (witnessed by George Tragidis) he described himself as a cabinet maker. Demetrius Anastas Georgiades (1860-?) had left Smyrna in 1875, settling in New York and applying for naturalisation in 1885. When he witnessed George Tragidis' naturalisation application in 1888 he gave his occupation as engineer. George John Tragidis (1867–1923) had arrived in America from Turkey in 1882 and in 1888 was recorded as a salesman. His younger brother, Themistocles John Tragidis (1873–?), might also have been involved with the group. An older man, George Malamakis or Malamackis (1849–1927), may have provided funds for the enterprise. Born in Constantinople, he was variously described as a manufacturer, merchant and, at the time he made his historic trip to France, a confectioner.

By 1894 Demetrius Georgiades and George Tragidis were trading as florists from premises at 1 Columbus Avenue. As New Yorkers they would have been well placed to witness the first kinetoscope exhibitions and, with their business partners, to purchase some of the earliest machines. They chose not, however, to exploit the kinetoscope in their adopted homeland, but instead displayed considerable business acumen by taking it to Paris and London. Following their brief, controversial motion picture venture the partners appear to have gone their separate ways. Although nothing further is known about either of the Georgiades, Tragidis returned to New York where, in 1896, his company was involved in a major fraud case. While continuing to work as a florist, and later a cigarette manufacturer, he became bankrupt at least twice, ending his days as a fruit stand operator. The eldest of the four men, George Malamakis, returned to the US, from England, early in 1896. By 1900 he had found his way to Corunna, Michigan, with a candy store business that added an element of accuracy to Ramsaye's otherwise confusing statement. However ill-remembered and transient their appearance in cinema pre-history, the Greeks were on the scene for long enough in France and England to become a major threat to Maguire's and Baucus' supposed monopoly and a causal factor in the development of motion pictures.

Having agreed to sell 13 kinetoscopes a week for six months and eight machines a week thereafter, the newly founded Continental Commerce Company placed its first order with the Edison Manufacturing Company on 3 September 1894. Fifty individually numbered kinetoscopes were shipped from New York between 13 September and 21 November 1894. Initially two consignments of 10 were sent to Bush and Maguire in London on 13 and 21 September (nos. 118–127, 141–150), followed by a further three to the Continental Commerce Company on 21 November (nos. 307–309). One kinetoscope was sent to John A. Kondylis, Liverpool (no. 179) on 18 October; two to G. E. Tewksbury, Blackpool (nos. 209 and 217) on 24 and 29 October; two to H. Wyndham at an unknown destination (nos. 258–257) on 7 November; three to W. Dower, London (nos. 294–296) on 15 November; two to the General Electric Company, London (nos. 302–303) on 16 November; and three to the Continental Commerce Company, London (nos. 307–309) on 21 November.

Ten machines were publicly exhibited at the company's London headquarters, 70 Oxford Street, from 18 October 1894, with, perhaps, a similar number at their second showroom at 432 Strand, London, from 9 November 1894. Considering the company's ambitions a surprisingly small number of kinetoscopes were despatched to other European locations. In October two machines were sent to Italy, one to a James P. Milworth (no. 194) and another to G. Bicciulli, care of Questra and Co., 6 Pelioro Grande, Naples (no. 218). Although Mr Milworth's identity and location in Italy remain a mystery, the ordering of the Naples kinetoscope appears to have been arranged by an Italian inventor well known to Edison. Italian expatriate and New York socialite Gianni Bettini (1860–1938) had patented several sophisticated improvements to Edison's phonograph before devising his own remarkable movie camera, but his name on a communication relating to the Naples order is the first sign of an interest in cinematography. Four machines were despatched to P. Soht, Copenhagen (Nos. 211–213 on 26 October; no. 280 on 7 November), presumably connected with the kinetoscope's first Danish exhibition at Vilhelm Pacht's Panoptikon amusement arcade in Radhusplasden, Copenhagen, on 16 December 1894.


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Table of Contents

Introduction: An International Perspective and Timeline

Part One [Richard Brown]
Chapter 1. Early Developments
Pre-October 1894 notices in Britain about the Kinetoscope. Exhibition of the 'Electrical Wonder' a forerunner. Original exploitation plans by Colonel Gouraud. The formation of the Continental Commerce Company and their agreement with Edison for the sale of Kinetoscopes in the UK.

Chapter 2. The Arrival of the Kinetoscope in Britain
Initial reaction. Press notices on the opening of the Oxford Street shop. The phonograph business and its background of illegality. Both the Kinetoscope and the phonograph promoted under the 'umbrella' of Edison's name. Leading phonograph personalities, such as J. L. Young and James Hough become interested in the Kinetoscope business. Hough and his connection with the Greeks and Chinnock. Plans to market 'bogus' machines. Arrival on the scene of Robert Paul and Birt Acres.

Chapter 3. The Legal and Historical Context to the Kinetoscope in Britain
The importance of correctly understanding English intellectual property law in interpreting the history of the Kinetoscope. Photographic copyright and how it correctly defines the commercial relationship between Paul and Acres. Claims made by both examined and assessed. The English patent system and Edison's attitude to patents. English patent applications for Kinetoscopes and Kineto-Phonographs. The Merchandise Marks Act and the law relating to 'Passing Off'. The Kinetoscope Court Case. What it did and what it did not do. The incomplete and inaccurate transmission of historical information and the difficulties this has caused to film history before April 1896. The problem of 'manipulation' in the statements of both Acres and Paul.

Chapter 4. Marketing the Kinetoscope ritain
The commercial and operational aspects of Kinetoscope exhibition. The economic base defined. Price behaviour. Profit and capital return periods defined. The importance of West Yorkshire in Kinetoscope history. Cecil Wray, and John Henry Rigg and the design innovation of his 'Baby' Kinetoscope. Other showmen such as James Walker, J. H. Quain, Alfred Lomax and Fred Duval. Advertising methods used.

Chapter 5. Commercial Decline and the Arrival of Projected Film
The decline in both purchase and sale price of machines quantified. Reduction of prices by the Continental Commerce Company. The downgrading 'role' of the Kinetoscope
– from 'star' attraction to peripheral attraction at Church bazaars, etc. Paul sells up his Earl's Court machines. The 'Time Machine' entertainment re-examined. Acres and projected film. Early Acres and Paul demonstrations. January to end of March 1896. Later notices. Ran in parallel with film projection, as it had with the phonograph. Conclusions.

Part Two [Barry Anthony]
Chapter 6. The films of Paul and Acres
Looks at Paul's and Acres' environments in Hatton Garden and Barnet. Study of British Kinetoscope films and their cultural background.

Chapter 7. A Premiere at the Nag's Head
Paul's exploitation of his Kinetoscope and relationship with the notorious Lord Hinton. Break up of Paul/Acres partnership.

Chapter 8. Magic, Magnates and Galvanic Forces
Looks at the careers of Frederick William Trautner/Duval; Samuel Stott/Herr Samuels; 'Professor'Alfred Jones and Alfred Henry Vidler. Also music hall's two main business figures Hugh Moss and Oswald Stoll and their exploitation of Kinetoscope. Discussion of changing face of entertainment. Becoming more family orientated. Creation of large scale entertainment venues.

Chapter 9. The Kaiser's Kinetoscope
Acres filming of the Opening of Kaiser Wilhelm Canal and Sedan Day celebrations. Potential of film as a propaganda medium.

Chapter 10. First Transatlantic Filming
Edison's cameraman Theodore Heise and his short sojourn in Europe. Harry Short's possible filming trip to US in March 1896.

Chapter 11. The Charters Towers Kinetophone Mystery
Compares mysterious Australian Kinetophone films with known phonograph recordings. Looks at Andrew Holland's possible connection. Also examines the importance of celebrities/celebrity in Kinetoscope and film forever after.

Chapter 12. A New World of Entertainment
Looks at social backgrounds of Alfred Lomax, Frederick Dalton and the Simpson brothers and how they fitted into the wider entertainment system. Examines holiday resorts and the Kinetoscope fitting into a world of new technology.

I. The Legal Case; II. List of Kinetoscope Exhibitions in UK; III. List of UK Kinetoscope films (including Acres' German films); IV. Newspaper Review of the play Outcasts of London, July 1895

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