William Dickson, working for Thomas Edison, helped develop the Kinetoscope and received a patent for his version of 35 mm motion picture film today in 1894. Now WE know em

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William Kennedy Laurie Dickson was born August 3, 1860 in Le Minihic-sur-Rance, Brittany, France.

In 1879, William, his mother, and two sisters moved to Virginia.

In 1888, American inventor and entrepreneur Thomas Alva Edison conceived of a device that would do “for the Eye what the phonograph does for the Ear”.

In October, Thomas Edison filed a preliminary claim, known as a caveat, with the U.S. Patent Office outlining his plans for the device.

In March 1889, a second caveat was filed, in which the proposed motion picture device was given a name, the Kinetoscope.

William Dickson, then the Edison company’s official photographer, was assigned to turn the concept into a reality.

William and his team at the Edison lab then worked on the development of the Kinetoscope for several years.

The first working prototype was unveiled in May 1891 and the final design of the system was essentially finalized by the fall of 1892.


Frame from Dickson Greeting, the first American film shown to a public audience in 1891.

Frame from Dickson Greeting, the first American film shown to a public audience in 1891.

The completed version of the Kinetoscope was officially unveiled at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences on May 9, 1893.

William’s 35 mm size film used with the Kinetoscope became the first practical celluloid film, a standard still in use.

Though not technically a projector system, it was rather a peep show style machine showing a continuous loop of the film William Dickson had invented, lit by an Edison light source, viewed individually through the window of a cabinet housing its components.



The Kinetoscope with William Dickson’s motion picture film introduced a basic approach that would become the standard for all cinematic projection before the advent of video.

It created the illusion of movement by conveying a strip of perforated film bearing sequential images over a light source with a high-speed shutter.

William Dickson and his team also devised the Kinetograph, an innovative motion picture camera with rapid intermittent, or stop-and-go, film movement, to photograph movies for in-house experiments and, eventually, commercial Kinetoscope presentations.

On January 7, 1894, William Dickson received a patent for his version of 35 mm motion picture film.

Then in late 1894 or early 1895, William Dickson became an ad hoc adviser to the motion picture operation of the Latham brothers, Otway and Grey, and their father, Woodville, who ran one of the leading Kinetoscope exhibition companies.

Seeking to develop a movie projector system, they also hired former Edison employee Eugene Lauste, probably at William’s suggestion.

The Dickson Experimental Sound Film

The Dickson Experimental Sound Film was a film made by William Dickson in late 1894 or early 1895. It is the first known film with live-recorded sound and appears to be the first motion picture made for the Kinetophone, the proto-sound-film system developed by Dickson and Thomas Edison. (The Kinetophone, consisting of a Kinetoscope accompanied by a cylinder-playing phonograph, was not a true sound-film system, for there was no attempt to synchronize picture and sound throughout playback.) This film was produced at the “Black Maria”, Edison’s New Jersey film studio. There is no evidence that it was ever exhibited in its original format. Newly digitized and restored, it is the only surviving Kinetophone film with live-recorded sound.

Then in April 1895, William Dickson officially left Edison’s employ and joined the Latham outfit.

Alongside Lauste, William helped devise what would become known as the Latham loop, allowing the photography and exhibition of much longer filmstrips than had previously been possible.

The team of former Edison associates brought to fruition the Eidoloscope projector system, which would be used in the first commercial movie screening in world history on May 20, 1895.

With the Lathams, Willaim Dickson was part of the group that formed the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, before he returned permanently to work in the United Kingdom in 1897.

William Dickson was also the first person to make a film for a Pope, and at the time his camera was blessed by His Holiness Leo XIII.

William Dickson died September 28, 1935 in England at the age of 75.

Now WE know em


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