Thomas Edison - Kinetophones

Edison offered kinetoscopes with phonographs inside their cabinets

Publicity photograph of man using Edison Kinetophone, ca. 1895
 By [1] (en:Image:Kinetophone1.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Kinetoscope is an early motion picture exhibition device. From the inception of motion pictures, various inventors attempted to unite sight and sound through "talking" motion pictures. The Edison Company is known to have experimented with this as early as the fall of 1894 under the supervision of W. K. L. Dickson with a film known today as Dickson Experimental Sound Film. The film shows a man, who may possibly be Dickson, playing violin before a phonograph horn as two men dance.

The First Kinetoscopes

A prototype for the Kinetoscope was shown to a convention of the National Federation of Women's Clubs on May 20, 1891. The premiere of the completed Kinetoscope was held not at the Chicago World's Fair, as originally scheduled, but at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences. The first film publicly shown on the system was Blacksmith Scene, directed by Dickson and shot by one of his workers. It was produced at the new Edison moviemaking studio, known as the Black Maria. Despite extensive promotion, a major display of the Kinetoscope, involving as many as 25 machines, never took place at the Chicago exposition. Kinetoscope production had been delayed in part because of Dickson's absence of more than 11 weeks early in the year with a nervous breakdown. 

By the spring of 1895, Edison was offering Kinetoscopes with phonographs inside their cabinets. The viewer would look into the peepholes of the Kinetoscope to watch the motion picture while listening to the accompanying phonograph through two rubber ear tubes connected to the machine (the Kinetophone). The picture and sound were made somewhat synchronous by connecting the two with a belt. Although the initial novelty of the machine drew attention, the decline of the Kinetoscope business and Dickson's departure from Edison ended any further work on the Kinetophone for 18 years.

A New Version of Kinetoscope

In 1913, a different version of the Kinetophone was introduced to the public. This time, the sound was made to synchronize with a motion picture projected onto a screen. A celluloid cylinder record measuring 5 1/2" in diameter was used for the phonograph. Synchronization was achieved by connecting the projector at one end of the theater and the phonograph at the other end with a long pulley.

Talking Pictures

Nineteen talking pictures were produced in 1913 by Edison, but by 1915 he had abandoned sound motion pictures. There were several reasons for this. First, union rules stipulated that local union projectionists had to operate the kinetophones, even though they hadn't been trained properly in its use. This led to many instances where synchronization was not achieved, causing audience dissatisfaction. The method of synchronization used was still less than perfect, and breaks in the film would cause the motion picture to get out of step with the phonograph record. The dissolution of the Motion Picture Patents Corp. in 1915 may also have contributed to Edison's departure from sound films since this act deprived him of patent protection for his motion picture inventions.