Thomas Edison & His Trusty Kinetoscope Create the First Movie Filmed In The US (c. 1889)

Thomas Edison is undoubtedly America’s best-known inventor. Nicknamed “The Wizard of Menlo Park” for his prolific creativity, Edison amassed a whopping 1093 patents throughout his lifetime. His most important inventions, such as the incandescent light bulb and the phonograph, were not merely revolutionary in and of themselves: they led directly to the establishment of vast industries, such as power utilities and the music business. It is one of his lesser known inventions, however, that led to the production of the first film shot in the United States, which you can view above.

The film, called Monkeyshines, No. 1, was recorded at some point between June 1889 and November 1890. Its creation is the work of William Dickson, an employee of Edison’s, who had been in charge of developing the inventor’s idea for a new film-viewing device. The machine that Edison had conceived and Dickson engineered was the Kinetoscope: a large box that housed a system that quickly moved a strip of film over a light source. Users watched the film whiz by from a hole in the top of the box, and by using sequential images, like those in a flip-book, the Kinetoscope gave the impression of movement.

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In the film, which Dickson and another Edison employee named William Heise created, a blurry outline of an Edison labs employee moves about, seemingly dancing. The above clip contains both Monkeyshines, No. 1, and its sequel, apparently filmed to conduct further equipment tests, known as Monkeyshines, No. 2. HD video, this is not. Despite having the honor of being the first films to be shot in the US, the Monkeyshines series has garnered an unenthusiastic reaction from present-day critics: the original received a rating of 5.5/10 stars at IMDB. The sequel? A 5.4.

Ilia Blinderman is a Montreal-based culture and science writer. Follow him at @iliablinderman, or read more of his writing at the Huffington Post.

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  1. Albert Kaplan says . . . | March 27, 2014 / 12:45 am

    To see a recently uncovered ambrotype of Thomas Edison,visit http://www.kaplancollection.com.

    It is likely he was 18 years of age when this image was made.

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