25th February 1888

Scottish inventor’s cinematic inspiration changes entertainment forever

Although lighting innovator Thomas Edison is credited with advances in early cinematography, Scottish inventor William Kennedy Dickson played a larger part than is often recognised.

Dickson was hired to work in Edison’s New Jersey laboratory at the age of 23, having migrated to the US four years earlier. There, he helped develop a film suitable for recording images in such a way that by shining light through them they could be projected onto a screen or wall.

He went on to develop the Kinetophone, which was the first system to play back sound and film together and, in doing so, starred in what was effectively the first ‘talkie’: The Dickson Experimental Sound Film.

Scottish innovation

The Kinetophone was the natural progression from the earlier Kinetoscope, which had been conceived by Edison himself but, likely, largely developed by Dickson, who had possibly been inspired by a lecture, given on 25 February 1888, by British photographer Eadweard Muybridge. In that lecture, Muybridge demonstrated how images printed onto a glass disc could give the illusion of movement if the disc was spun at high speed, while a shuttered light flashed behind it. It wasn’t an enormous leap from that to a flashing light behind Dickson’s transparent film.

The London Evening Standard reported on ‘A new invention by Edison’ on 8 March 1894, stating that “Mr Edison has perfected his kinetoscope for the photography of objects in motion”. It explained that “the main principle of the invention consists in taking a great number of impressions by means of a camera in a very limited space of time, thus obtaining a continuous photograph of the entire motion of the object or person selected. The photographs follow each other in such rapid succession that no lapse of time can be detected between the impressions recorded, and the series of pictures becomes, in effect, but one picture.”

“Nothing very exciting”

The Westminster Gazette was somewhat less impressed by the invention, telling its readers “there is nothing very exciting about Mr Edison’s latest toy… with sundry elaborations it is practically the zoetrope of our childhood. We confess we had rather hoped to have news of the promised tele-photograph, or whatever it may be called, which was to supplement the telephone by reproducing the image of a correspondent at any distance whatever”.

Sadly for the Gazette, wide scale teleconferencing was still roughly a century away.



Other events that occured in February

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