The World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 and the Kinetograph

The Kinetograph

By Doug Boilesen, 2021

When the World's Columbian Exposition published their Official Guide of the World's Columbian Exhibition (before the fair opened) it wrote "among the most unique exhibits is the new kimetograph (sic) [kinetograph]."

 

Official Guide of the World's Columbian Exhibition, 1893

 

On October 17, 1888 Edison had filed a caveat with the Patents Office "describing his ideas for a device which would "do for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear" -- record and reproduce objects in motion. Edison called the invention a "Kinetoscope," using the Greek words "kineto" meaning "movement" and "scopos" meaning "to watch." A patent for the Kinetograph (the camera) and the Kinetoscope (the viewer) was filed on August 24, 1891. See kinetoscope at Loc.gov.

 

The Prototype Kinetoscope

"On May 20, 1891, the first public demonstration of the prototype Kinetoscope was given at the laboratory for approximately 150 members of the National Federation of Women's Clubs. The New York Sun described what the club women saw in the "small pine box" they encountered: In the top of the box was a hole perhaps an inch in diameter. As they looked through the hole they saw the picture of a man. It was a most marvelous picture. It bowed and smiled and waved its hands and took off its hat with the most perfect naturalness and grace. Every motion was perfect....(2).

 

The Aurora News-Register, Aurora, Nebraska July 18, 1891

 

"I think we'll have the kinetograph through in time for the World's Fair," said the inventor. "That's what I am working on it for."

 

Chicago Tribune, October 7, 1891

 

 

The Kinetograph's First Public Demonstration

The kinetograph was first publicly displayed on May 9, 1893 at the Department of Physics of the Brooklyn Institute. Scientific American reported this event in their May 20, 1893 edition saying that "the members were enabled, through the courtesy of Mr. Edison, to examine the new instrument known as the kinetograph." (1)

"The instrument in its complete form consists of an optical lantern, a mechanical device by which a moving image is projected on the screen simultaneously with the production by a phonograph of the words or song which accompany the movements pictured. For example, the photograph of a prima donna would be shown on the screen, with the movements of the lips, the head, and the body, together with the changes of facial expression, while the phonograph would produce the song; but to arrange this apparatus for exhibition for a single evening was impracticable. Therefore, a small instrument designed for individual observation, and which simply shows the movements without the accompanying words, was shown to the members and their friends who were present."

"After projecting upon the screen a few sections of the kinetograph strip, the audience—which consisted of more than 400 scientific people— was allowed to pass by the instrument, each person taking a view of the moving picture, which averaged for each person about half a minute. The picture represented a blacksmith and two helpers forging a piece of iron...."

"The machine in this case was not accompanied by the phonograph, but nevertheless the exhibition was one of great interest. The kinetograph in this form is designed as a "nickel in the slot" machine, and a number of them have been made for use at the Columbian Exhibition at Chicago."

The May 9 'kinetograph' was defined in all reports as the device that included sound from a phonograph that could synchronize the viewed movements and lips of the moving photographs with sounds from the phonograph. For that first public demonstration of that kinetograph, however, the phonograph was not connected. At the end of the lecture and demonstration the audience looked into the kinetoscope's peep-hole viewer, each person watching a blacksmith scene moving picture for less than 30 seconds.

Film historian Charles Musser summarized the audience viewing the kinetoscope film after George M. Hopkins finished his lecture at the premier of Edison's new motion picture system, the kinetoscope and kinetograph camera on May 9, 1893 as follows:

"When the lecture concluded, at least two twenty-second films were shown: BLACKSMITHING SCENE and HORSE SHOEING. Four hundred people in attendance lined up in front of Edison's peep-hole kinetoscope and one by one looked in the viewer and saw one of these two films."

The May 20,1893 Scientific American article concluded "The kinetograph in this form is designed as a "nickel in the slot" machine, and a number of them have been made for use at the Columbian Exhibition at Chicago." This coin-operated kinetograph would be known as the kinetoscope.

 

The Standard Union, Brooklyn, May 10, 1893 reporting on the kinetograph's first public demonstration

 

 

Going to the Chicago and the World's Columbian Exhibition

The Ottawa Daily Citizen reported in March 1893 that one hundred and fifty kinetographs with moving pictures and sound will be at the World's Columbian Exposition. The kinetograph will be an enclosed device with a nickel in the slot mechanism that is coin activated. The writer said that Edison "ought to make a fortune" from his one hundred and fifty kinetographs at the fair.

 

 

 

"going to Chicago...as a penny-in-the-slot machine."

The Standard Union, Brooklyn, May 10, 1893

Following the kinetograph's first public display in Brooklyn The Standard Union said that it "was going to Chicago, there to be exhibited in the Fair grounds as a penny-in-the-slot machine."

 

 

"Edison will lead the procession this summer at Chicago with "perhaps greatest of his inventions, the kinetograph."

The Lindsborg News, Lindsborg, Kansas April 28, 1893

 

The Edison Kinetograph was an instrument intended "to reproduce motion and sound simultaneously, being a combination of a specially constructed camera and phonograph." The kinetograph is a "combination photograph and phonograph" explained the 1892 Historical World's Columbian Exposition and Chicago Guide giving fair visitors advance information on what they would be able to see.

 

The Phonogram, October, 1892, p. 217

 

William K. Dickson and William Heise, his associate and fellow filmmaker shake hands in this kinetograph film, The Phonogram, October 1892, p. 220.

 

The phonograph trade magazine The Phonogram in their March-April 1893 issue noted that "the famous Edison kinetograph" would be exhibited in the Machinery Hall "under Class H, its proper classification."

 

The Phonogram, March and April, 1893

 

 

"The Kinetograph To Be the Individual Exhibit of the Great Inventor At the World's Fair"

The differention between the kinetograph and kinetoscope was clarified by Edison in an April 1893 interview (The Indianapolis News, April 27, 1893). "The kinetograph," he said, "or, to put it more explicitly, the kinetoscope, is a very simple device." Details followed but it was all under a headline which emphasized that "the Kinetograph was to be the Individual Exhibit of the Great Inventory at the World's Fair..."

 

The Indianapolis News, April 27, 1893 p. 5

 

Additional information was provided in an April 27, 1893 of the Indianapolis News which noted that the "first perfected kinetoscope which is a domestic kinetograph was finished in the Edison laboratory at Orange, N.J., a few weeks ago. Besides the kinetoscopes in the World's Fair 150 will be placed around the city. The kinetograph will be displayed in some hall in the business center. This feature of the Edison exhibits is part of the display of the phonograph company in the southwest gallery of the Electricity Building." This would mean that the kinetograph exhibit was intended to be part of the phonograph exhibit and that the kinetoscopes as coin-operated devices would be in other areas of the fair grounds and around the city.

 

The Indianapolis News, April 27, 1893 p. 5

 

The Alton Weekly Telegraph, July 13, 1893 titled "The Kinetograph and Kinetoscope" wrote that when Edison's nickel-in-the-slot instrument is without the phonograph it is called the kinetoscope but when a phonograph is attached, "giving the sounds of the hammer as well as the talking of the men" the instrument is called the kinetograph." The "giving the sounds of the hammer" was referring to the Edison film "The Blacksmith Scene" which was to have accompanied the film with phonograph recorded sounds at the Brooklyn demonstration. That first public display of the kinetograph on May 9 showed Edison's film "the blacksmith scene," however, it did not have sound as the phonograph was not connected for that demonstration.

 

Was the Kinetograph at the World's Fair in Chicago?

Over the years some film and other historians have had different opinions about whether or not the kinetograph was exhibited by Edison at the World's Columbian Exhibition of 1893.

Scientific American, October 21, 1893 reported that the kinetograph is "in the southern end of the gallery" and that article has been cited as evidence that there was at least one kinetograph as the fair.

 

 

Scientific American, "Notes from the Worlds Columbian Exposition," October 21, 1893

 

The October 21, 1893 "Scientific American Notes" from the fair, however, reads more like the description of a process than the actual watching of moving pictures with sound.

"He photographs the face at the same time one talks into the phonograph. By this method the sound and motion, of the lips in producing it are accurately reproduced."

Describing the process of making a moving picture by photographing the face and recording the voice at the same time on a phonograph was a common sentence included in many newspapers about the kinetograph prior to the fair opening. Likewise, newspapers often repeated metaphors and similes to explain what the kinetograph does, e.g., the kinetograph "transmits scenes to the eye as well as sounds to the ear;" "The instrument transmits photographically as the telephone does phonetically;" and "it is to the eye what the phonograph is to the ear."

This "process" description by Scientific American on October 21, 1893, however, is insufficient evidence that there was a kinetograph being exhibited at the fair. Descriptions from the pre-fair newspaper articles and promotions about the kinetograph going to Chicago are not evidence that anyone actually saw the kinetograph at the fair. When the kinetograph was first publically displayed on May 9, 1893 at the Department of Physics in Brooklyn before over 400 scientific people "the exhibition was one of great interest" and there were details of what was seen even though those moving pictures weren't accompanied by the phonograph. "But even in this form it was startling in its realism and beautiful in the perfection of its workings" wrote the Standard Union, May 10, 1893.

Therefore, where are any reports during the fair about seeing the kinetograph and finding it "of great interest?" Where is any sense of wonder, "the startling realism," or the "perfection of its workings" portrayed in this Scientific American article or any other newspaper while the fair was open?

Newspaper articles that go beyond the pre-fair explanations about the kinetograph and instead speak of it as something being seen on exhibit at the fair are absent during the entire time the World's Columbian Exposition was open.

The April 27, 1893 newspaper article by Norton, Kansas's The Champion was written before the fair was open and we know that it was mistaken in saying that the "kinetographs had already been shipped to the fair."

 

The Champion, Norton, Kansas, April 27, 1893

 

What The Champion did get right, however, was their anticipation that delivery of kinetographs should "excite the admiration of the world no less than the phonographs at Paris."

 

Visitors at the Paris Exposition Listening to Edison's Phonograph, Harper's Weekly, illustration by C. S. Reinhart, 1889

 

Where is the sense of wonder and admiration by the public at the fair for the kinetograph?

This lack of reporting reactions from first-time viewers about seeing the kinetograph at the fair is counter to the history of the public seeing such inventions for the first time. The admiration the Parisian visitors gave to Edison's phonographs in 1889 is an obvious example of enthusiasm and curiosity for a new wonder. Even after the phonograph's coin-in-the-slot machines had been introduced to the public in 1889 there would continue to be many examples of the public listening to coin-operated phonographs for the first time and finding it a delight and curious about what was inside the box. Jokes were still being circulated in the first decade of the twentieth century about listeners being confused by the phonograph's realism and questioning the source of those sounds ("Where's the Band?" humor).

When the first kinetoscope parlor in New York City opened in April of 1894 six months after the fair closed there was much public interest. Terry Ramsaye wrote the following in his book "A Million and One Nights - A History of the Motion Picture." (4)

"Holland Brothers's Kinetoscope Parlor offering "the Wizard's latest invention" was a Broadway sensation. Long cues of patrons stood waiting to look into the peep hole machines and see the pictures that lived and moved."

There are no similiar reports or evidence that anyone saw the kinetograph's moving pictures at the World's Fair.

 

No kinetoscope, no synchronized sound and no Edison films shown at the fair

Even if one kinetograph was delivered and in "the southern end of the gallery" it would not have been a functioning kinetograph connected to a phonograph providing synchronized sound. The device that could display the "motion of the lips" and the sound from those lips to be "accurately" reproduced was still being developed and not available until 1895 when it came out as a kinetophone (the kinetophone being a combination phonograph and kinetoscope). Dickson wrote in 1894 that "the establishment of harmonious relations between kinetograph and phonograph was a harrowing task... but "the experiments have borne their legitimate fruit, and the most scrupulous nicety of adjustment has been achieved, with the resultant effects of realistic life, audibly and visually expressed." (8)

According to historian David Robinson"The Kinetophone...made no attempt at synchronization. The viewer listened through tubes to a phonograph concealed in the cabinet and performing approximately appropriate music or other sound." Historian Douglas Gomery concurs, "[Edison] did not try to synchronize sound and image." (See Wikipedia's kinetoscope and 'section "kinetophone" for Robinson and Gomery quotes extracted 2-1-2022).

Terry Ramsaye, author of the 1926 "A Million and One Nights - A History of the Motion Picture" did extensive research regarding the history of the kinetograph and kinetoscope and interviewed many who were part of the film industry from its beginning.

Prior to the opening of the fair there were negotiations between Edison and Norman C. Raff, Thomas R. Lombard and Frank R. Gammon which resulted in the rights of sale for the Kinetoscope and the formation of the Kinetoscope Company. Ramsaye describes how Raff, Lombard, and Gammon were "eager to introduce their wonderous machine there. It was the prime opportunity to plant the seed of a national and world distribution." (5)

Ramsaye then writes that "Edison had supplies of neither machines nor film pictures for them. He promised to rush them through. The opening of the Fair in Chicago was delayed and it seemed possible that a battery of Kinetoscopes could be ready."

There were efforts by Edison such as the building of the world's first motion picture studio, the Black Maria, to try to supply the Kinetoscope Company in Chicago with films for the kinetoscopes (the "Black Maria" studio at the Edison Laboratory was completed on February 1, 1893). Raff and Lombard and the Kinetoscope Company waited for delivery of the kinetoscopes and their films but Edison's lab had issues with key personnel who were working on the kinetoscope. Further production delays ultimately resulted in no kinetoscopes being sent to Chicago while the fair was still open.

A Million and One Nights, Ramsaye (5)

 

Edison did not deliver any Kinetoscopes to Lombard and the Kinetoscope Company while the fair was open and Ramsaye is definitive that no Kinetoscopes were at the World's Columbian Exposition:

 

 

A Million and One Nights, Ramsaye (6)

 

 

 

The Kinetoscope

 

 

Another explanation of events that contributed to not even one Kinetoscope making it to Chicago comes from film historian Charles Musser (7):

The Black Maria was rarely used for production during 1893, as the refinement of Edison's motion picture system and the manufacture of kinetoscopes experienced delays. W. K. L. Dickson suffered from nervous exhaustion and was absent from the laboratory between early February and late April 1893. Although this accounts for some of the slowdown, the recession of 1893 may have further impeded this project, as Edison devoted his hard-pressed finances and time to iron ore milling. A new model kinetoscope for films taken with the vertical-feed kinetograph was probably not available until shortly before the Brooklyn Institute demonstration in May. A contract for the manufacture of twenty-five machines based on this prototype was only drawn in late June. Gordon Hendricks indicates that it was given to an Edison employee who had difficulty staying sober. As a result, the machines were not completed until March 1894. Only the prototype was available for exhibition at the Chicago exposition, and this proved too valuable to send.

If the only kinetoscope available for exhibition was the prototype that was displayed at the Brooklyn Institute on May 9, 1893 and it "proved too valuable to send" then the newspaper articles and pre-fair publicity were wrong. The public would not get their chance at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 to see and express anything about the kinetoscope.

 

"The Black Maria" at Edison's Lab which Dickson called "The Kinetographic Theatre" (Courtesy Library of Congress) (8)

 

 

Kineto-Phonograph filming and recording for moving picture with sound, 1894 (Courtesy Library of Congress) (8)

 

 

 

The first twenty-five kinetoscopes were finally completed in January 1894

No kinetoscope was shipped anywhere prior to the first batch of twenty-five being completed in January 1894 (the World's Fair closed at the end of October 1893). The first kinetoscope shipped by Edison was part of the delivery of ten machines to the New York City kinetoscope parlor which went into operation on April 14, 1894. (9)

 

Interior of first Kinetoscope Parlor, 1155 Broadway, New York,1894 (Courtesy Library of Congress) (8)

 

 

Kinetoscope "finally ready to be seen by the public..."

The experimenting and development that were required "for the last six or seven years" before Edison was ready to show his kinetoscope to the public is mentioned in an April 1894 interview of Edison and W. K. L. Dickson. Dickson tells the reporter that the kinetoscope is finally ready to be seen by the public saying "although their experiments are not yet carried to their conclusion, they have reached a point where Mr. Edison is willing that the public should see what they have done." (The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 1, 1894)

 

Conclusion: The kinetoscope was not at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.

There is no evidence that the kinetoscope was at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.

Evidence is insufficient to definitively say what, if anything, was in the southern gallery of the Electricity Building since some type of display may have described what the kinetograph was and what it could do. If a kinetograph was being exhibited in that gallery there is no evidence it was operational and no evidence that any device that "transmits scenes to the eye and well as sounds to the ear" was at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.

 

The first kinetoscope parlor opened in April 1894 New York City at 1155 Broadway

(Courtesy of American Experience)

 

 

 

The World:Tuesday Evening, New York, New York, May 29, 1894

 

 

 

Kinetoscope Parlor, 1895 lithograph (magazine)

 

 

Kinetoscope Parlor, New York City at 1155 Broadway

 

 

 

1889 Kinetograph - The first camera to take motion pictures on a moving strip of film.

(Courtesy U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Edison National Historic Site)

 

 

 

 

 

References

 

1 - At the regular monthly meeting of the Department of Physics of the Brooklyn Institute, May 9, the members were enabled, through the courtesy of Mr. Edison, to examine the new instrument known as the kinetograph [sic , i.e., kinetoscope]. - Document No. 1 - Edison and the Kinetoscope 1888 - 1895, University of California with original source Scientific American, May 20, 1893, p. 310 - Musser, Charles. Before the Nickelodeon: Edwin S. Porter and the Edison Manufacturing Company. Berkeley: University of California Press, c1991 1991. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft3q2nb2gw/

2. Robertson, Patrick (2001). Film Facts. New York: Billboard Books. ISBN 0-8230-7943-0, page 5. (Extracted from Wikipedia "Kinetoscope" on 2-2-2022)

3. In the September 2, 1893, issue of Electrical Review, Edison was described as the Chicago World's Fair alone in the agricultural building with "a pancake in one hand and a cracker spread with jelly in the other."

4 - Terry Ramayse, A Million and One Nights, Simon and Schuster, 1926 (Frontis) Ramayse, Terry, A Million and One Nights - A History of the Motion Picture, Simon and Schuster, 1926

5 - ibid "Raff, Lombard, and Gammon were "eager to introduce their wonderous machine there..." p. 81

6 - ibid (p. 85)

7 - "The Black Maria was rarely used for production..." Musser, Charles. Before the Nickelodeon: Edwin S. Porter and the Edison Manufacturing Company. Berkeley: University of California Press, c1991. pp. 38-39

8 - The Kinetographic Theatre at the Edison Lab - History of the Kinetograph Kinetoscope and Phono-Kinetograph by W. K. L. Dickson and Antonia Dickson, ©1895 W.K.L. Dickson

9 - See Edison and the Kinetoscope: 1888-1895, Chapter 3 Exploitation of the Kinetoscope, p.45 - "Through Tate, they had a long-standing order for the first twenty-five kinetoscopes. As soon as these were completed, ten machines were immediately installed at 1155 Broadway, near Herald Square in New York City, where the kinetoscope had its commercial debut on April 14th. A Chicago kinetoscope parlor, using another ten machines, opened in mid May..." Source: Musser, Charles. Before the Nickelodeon: Edwin S. Porter and the Edison Manufacturing Company. Berkeley: University of California Press, c1991 1991. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft3q2nb2gw/

 

 

Wilkes-Barre Times Leader The Evening News, May 28, 1891 - IT OUTEDISONS EDISON. The Latest Wonder from the Wizard's Workshop.

Chicago Tribune, May 13, 1891- Edison and the Big Fair - "The Kinetograph and What He Claims for It"

Chicago Tribune, May 28, 1891 - "Light and Sound United - Edison Outdoes Himself with the Kinetograph"

The Pall Mall Gazette, London, May 29, 1891 - Mr. Edison's Latest Invention. The Wonders of the Kinetograph.

Chicago Tribune, October 7, 1891 - Wonders of the Kinetograph.

The Phonogram, October 1892, The Kinetograph - A New Industry Heralded

The Historical World's Columbian Exposition and Chicago Guide, Pacific Publishing Co., 1892

Ottawa Daily Citizen, March 10, 1893 - Makes a Shadow Talk. 150 of Edison's Odd Inventions at the World's Fair

The Chicago Tribune, March 23, 1893 - Concessions granted for 50 Tachyscopes on Midway Plaisance

The Indianapolis News, April 27, 1893 p. 5

The Champion, Norton, Kansas, April 27, 1893 - Edison's World's Fair Exhibit

The Madison Chronicle, Madison, Nebraska April 27, 1893 - Edison's Latest Wonder. He Will Exhibit a Mechanical Retina Which He Calls a Kinetograph.

The Lindsborg's News Lindsborg, Kansas April 28, 1893 - Edison's World's Fair Exhibit.

The Standard Union, Brooklyn, May 10, 1893 - "Wizard Edison - A Wonderful Instrument of His Exhibited at Brooklyn"

Scientific American, May 20, 1893 - First Public Exhibition of Edison's Kinetograph,

The Evening World, New York, May 28, 1891 - EXTRA "Edison's Newest Wonder - The Kinetograph, A Surprising Invention for Reproducing Motion"

The Tennessean, Nashville, June 20, 1891 - "The Kinetograph. Edison's Latest Invention - A Companion to the Phonograph"

Vermont Watchman and State Journal, Montpelier, VT, July 1, 1891 - "The Kinetograph."

Notes from the Exposition by J. C. Ruppenthal, Jr., The Russell Record, KS, July 13, 1893 - Edison Phonograph and Graphophone Coin-Ops and Tachyscope

Aurora News-Register, Aurora, NE July 18, 1891 - "Edison's Kinetograph. It Will Be Far More Wonderful Than the Phonograph."

The Alton Weekly Telegraph, July 13, 1893 "The Kinetograph and Kinetoscope" - "almost ready to be put upon the market but still at Edison's Lab."

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 16, 1893 - "SEE THE FAIR FOR $100 - Story of a Brooklynite Who Took His Wife to Chicago"

The Waco News, The Waco Evening News, August 19, 1893 - From Nan Manlove Toby's column "IN SOCIETY - An Interesting Letter From the White City."

St. Louis Globe-Democrat, December 10, 1893- Edison's Latest Inventions.

The Pensacola News, August 23, 1893 - "Edison's Latest - The Phono-Kinetograph Will Soon Be Brought Out"

Person County Courier, Roxboro, NC, November 23, 1893 - Terms Kinetoscope and Kinetograph

American Society of Cinematographers - Overview of the Kinetoscope and their restored Kinetoscope.

Muybridge's Zoopraxographical Hall at the World's Columbian Exhibition

Edison Barber Shop Film, December 1893

The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, PA, April 1, 1894 - "The Wonderful Kinetoscope - Edison's Latest Invention Reproduces Nature's Movements with Wonderful Fidelity"

The Inter Ocean by George M. Smith, Chicago, IL, April 8, 1894 p. 33 - "The Kinetoscope - A Sequel to the Kinetograph Invention" (See Philadelphia Inquirer for April 1 report)

The Larned Eagle-Optic, April 20, 1894 - Wizard Edison's Latest - The Wonderful Kinetoscopes and the Marvels It Accomplishes (Example of how large and small newspapers repeated this story)

Edison's personal testimonial to Ramsaye's research and "unrelenting effort at exact fact."

Fairground Fiction in Newspapers - Letters to the editor and visitor accounts about the 1893 World's Fairs and printed in newspapers.

 

 

 

 

 

Phonographia.com - World's Columbian Exhibition of 1893