Film History Before 1920 / The History of Motion Pictures
The History of Motion Pictures


Innovations Necessary for the Advent of Cinema:
Optical toys, shadow shows, 'magic lanterns,' and visual tricks have existed for thousands of years. Many inventors, scientists, manufacturers and scientists have observed the visual phenomenon that a series of individual still pictures set into motion created the illusion of movement - a concept termed persistence of vision. A number of technologies and inventions related to motion and vision were developed in the early to late 19th century that were precursors to the birth of the motion picture industry:

[A very early version of a "magic lantern" was invented in the 17th century by Athanasius Kircher in Rome. It was a device with a lens that projected images from transparencies onto a screen, with a simple light source (such as a candle).]

1824 - the invention of the Thaumatrope (the earliest version of an optical illusion toy that exploited the concept of "persistence of vision") by Dr. John Ayrton Paris

1831 - the discovery of the law of electromagnetic induction by English scientist Michael Faraday, a principle used in generating electricity and powering motors and other machines (including film equipment)

1832 - the invention of the Fantascope (also called Phenakistiscope or "spindle viewer") by Belgian inventor Joseph Plateau, a device that simulated motion. A series or sequence of separate pictures depicting stages of an activity, such as juggling or dancing, were arranged around the perimeter or edges of a slotted disk. When the disk was placed before a mirror and spun or rotated, a spectator looking through the slots 'perceived' a moving picture.

1834 - the invention and patenting of another stroboscopic device adaptation, the Daedalum (renamed the Zoetrope in 1867 by American William Lincoln) by British inventor William George Horner. It was a hollow, rotating drum/cylinder with a crank, with a strip of photographs or illustrations on the interior surface and regularly spaced slits through which a spectator observed the 'moving' drawings.

1839 - the birth of photography with the development of the first commercially-viable daguerreotype (a method of capturing still images on silvered, copper-metal plates) by French painter and inventor Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre

1841 - the patenting of calotype (or Talbotype, a process for printing negative photographs on high-quality paper) by British inventor William Henry Fox Talbot

1869 - the development of celluloid by John Wesley Hyatt, patented in 1870 and trademarked in 1873 - later used as the base for photographic film

1877 - the invention of the Praxinoscope by French inventor Charles Emile Reynaud - it was a 'projector' device with a mirrored drum that created the illusion of movement with picture strips, a refined version of the Zoetrope with mirrors at the center of the drum instead of slots; public demonstrations of the Praxinoscope were made by the early 1890s with screenings of 15 minute 'movies' at his Parisian Theatre Optique

1879 - Thomas Alva Edison's first public exhibition of an efficient incandescent light bulb, later used for film projectors

Late 19th Century Inventions and Experiments: Muybridge, Marey, and Eastman:
Pioneering Britisher Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), an early photographer and inventor, was famous for his photographic loco-motion studies (of animals and humans) at the end of the 19th century (such as "The Horse in Motion"). In 1870 at a Sacramento (California) racecourse, he first used a row of 12 cameras, equally spaced along the racetrack, to record the movement of a galloping horse, to prove that all four of the horse's feet were off the ground at the same time. In 1877-1878, he repeated the experiment for his wealthy San Francisco benefactor, Leland Stanford, using 24 cameras to record another horse's gallops.

Muybridge's pictures, published widely in the late 1800s, were often cut into strips and used in a Praxinoscope, a descendant of the zoetrope device, invented by Charles Emile Reynaud in 1877. The Praxinoscope was the first 'movie machine' that could project a series of images onto a screen. Muybridge's stop-action series of photographs helped lead to his own 1879 invention of the Zoopraxiscope (or "zoogyroscope"), a primitive motion-picture projector machine that also recreated the illusion of movement (or animation) by projecting images - rapidly displayed in succession - onto a screen from photos printed on a rotating glass disc.

Around the same time, Parisian innovator and physiologist Etienne-Jules Marey was also studying, experimenting, and recording bodies (animals) in motion using photographic means (and astronomer Pierre-Jules-Cesar Janssen's "photographic revolver" idea). In 1882, Marey, often claimed to be the 'inventor of cinema,' constructed a camera (or "photographic gun") that could take multiple (12) photographs per second of moving animals or humans - called chronophotography. [The term shooting a film was possibly derived from Marey's invention.] He was able to record multiple images of a subject's movement on the same camera plate, rather than the individual images Muybridge had produced. His chronophotographs (multiple exposures on single glass plates and on strips of sensitized paper - celluloid film - that passed automatically through a camera of his own design) were revolutionary. He was soon able to achieve a frame rate of 30 images.

Other early motion picture films (two short fragments survive, one of which was titled Traffic Crossing Leeds Bridge) were taken with a camera devised and patented by French-born Louis Le Prince in 1888. The work of Muybridge, Marey and Le Prince laid the groundwork for the development of motion picture cameras and projectors - hence the development of cinema. American inventor George Eastman provided a more stable type of celluloid film with his concurrent developments in 1888 of sensitized paper roll film (instead of glass plates) and a convenient "Kodak" small box camera (a still camera) that used the roll film. He improved upon the paper roll film with another invention in 1889 - perforated celluloid (synthetic plastic material coated with gelatin) roll-film with photographic emulsion.