Celebrating the History of Motion Pictures from 1890 to 1960


History of Motion Pictures
1890 – 1899

A Brief Overview of the Decade

This decade was the very heart of what Mark Twain dubbed “The Gilded Age”.  Railroads and steel mills created unheard of wealth for so–called “Robber Barons” who built enormous public buildings and equally enormous private mansions.  As people tapped their toes to such new songs as “Down By the Old Mill Stream” and “In the Good Old Summertime”, and rode their bicycles which had become all the rage, they began installing electricity in their homes and talking to each other on that new–fangled invention, the telephone. 

Anything seemed to be possible, and this vision of the future was reflected in the spectacular Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 that recorded over 27 million visits.  By the end of the decade the Wright brothers were busy designing the first successful airplane, and Henry Ford had built his first gasoline–powered automobile.  This was truly the “Gay 90s”, and during this period motion pictures would be introduced and would slowly establish the foundations of a new form of entertainment, and of a new industry.


Thomas Edison’s assistant, W.K.L. Dickson, begins devoting himself to the “motion picture project”.  He and his staff develop a horizontal–feed motion picture camera.   Click Here to go back to the 1890’s Timeline.

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A peephole–viewing machine is unveiled by Edison during a convention of the Federation of Women’s Clubs.  The motion picture in the viewing machine shows a man bowing, smiling and taking off his hat.   Edison calls his motion picture camera a kinetograph, and his peephole–viewing device a kinetoscope.  He prepares…

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Edison’s use of 1-1/2 inch film in his vertical–feed motion picture camera establishes the basis for today’s standard 35mm commercial film gauge. Click Here to go back to the 1890’s Timeline.  

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Edison builds a film studio on the grounds of his laboratories in New Jersey to produce films for his kinetoscope machines.  The studio is called “The Black Maria”, a slang term for a police patrol wagon that the studio is said to resemble.   Significant Films: “The Blacksmith Scene” becomes…

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The Holland brothers open the first kinetoscope parlor in New York City on April 14.  In one year they have gross receipts of over $16,000.   Senator Bradley forbids the projection of one of Edison’s films that shows the dancer Carmencita’s undergarments as she dances.  This is the first case…

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From April 1894 through February 1895, Edison’s kinetoscope and film sales exceed $177,000.   Thomas Armat and C. Francis Jenkins patent a motion picture projector that they call the Phantoscope.  In September, at the Cotton States Exposition in Atlanta, they arranged to exhibit Edison kinetoscope movies using their Phantoscope projector…

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Charles Raff and Frank Gammon buy the Jenkins–Armat phantoscope from Thomas Armat on behalf of Edison.  They rename the projector “Edison’s vitascope”, and it is hailed as Edison’s latest invention.  By selling exclusive vitascope exhibition rights for specific territories, they make a windfall profit.   Charles and Emile Pathè found…

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The American Mutoscope Company (later renamed the American Mutoscope & Biograph Company and frequently called the “Biograph Company”), marketing their own films and their new biograph projector, becomes the foremost motion picture company in the U.S.   In Paris a catastrophic fire breaks out at the Bazar de la Charité’s…

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The sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor gives rise to a multitude of Spanish–American War films.   Edison files a patent–infringement suit against the Biograph Company.   Edison’s lawyers visit two theater producers and warn them against exhibiting foreign films in America.   Germany produces its first film….

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Vaudeville theatres establish permanent relations with motion picture exhibition services.   Biograph introduces a new tripod head that allows quick, smooth panning of the camera.   Although the vast majority of films still consisted of one shot, multi–shot films now began to be included in the catalogues of film companies….

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