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.


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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Thomas Edi­son and Niko­la Tes­la Face Off in “Epic Rap Bat­tles of His­to­ry”

Magi­cian Mar­co Tem­pest Daz­zles a TED Audi­ence with “The Elec­tric Rise and Fall of Niko­la Tes­la”

A Brief, Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to Thomas Edi­son (and Niko­la Tes­la)

Thomas Edi­son Recites “Mary Had a Lit­tle Lamb” in Ear­ly Voice Record­ing

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