Edison’s Vitascope

Soon after Thomas Edison first publicly demonstrated his Kinetoscope in Brooklyn in 1893, the Holland Brothers opened up the first movie parlor at 1155 Broadway at 27th Street.  Here, for 50 cents, you could watch each of the ten movies that were playing on that evening’s bill.  Once your first movie was over you would simply move to the next Kinetoscope and watch that picture.  This would continue until you had seen all ten movies at all ten machines.

Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison

Although this seems cumbersome, people flocked to the increasing number of Kinetoscope parlors springing up in the city.  Business was booming, especially for Edison who was making money off of each showing.  He loved the single-user property of the machine.

But, the parlour owners saw another opportunity.  What if you could project the Kinetoscope images on a screen so that an entire auditorium full of patrons could watch?  The owners tried to pressure Edison into inventing such a device.  He resisted at first as the businessman in him felt showing the movies to a mass audience would not generate the profits that the single user system had.

In 1895, Edison came up with a device that would project moving pictures.  When I say “came up with” I mean that he either invented the device or agreed to finance the manufacturing of the device in return for the credit of inventing it.  No one really seems to know for sure.

Nonetheless, on April 23, 1896 at Koster and Bial’s Music Hall (Twenty-third west of Sixth Avenue) the first public demonstration of the Vitascope took place.  Introduced as part of the vaudeville show, the hand-tinted black and white films begin with a piece called “Sea Waves”.  The illusion was so real that patrons in the front rows scattered as the waves come at them.

The Vitascope presentations soon became an integral part of the vaudeville shows.  Edison produced the films and gave the halls a steady stock of short films.  The Edison Company would eventually develop its own projecting Kinetoscope and the Vitascope would be abandoned.  But the American movie would never look back.

 

 

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