Artifact of the Month

Projecting Kinetoscope

Projecting Kinetoscope
Donated by Bruce Vaughan

Thomas Edison received a patent in 1897 for the kinetoscope, the forerunner of the motion-picture film projector. Edison and his assistant W. K. L. Dickson had begun work on the project in hopes of boosting sales of the phonograph, which Edison had invented in 1877, by enlivening sound recordings with moving pictures. Unable to synchronize the two media, he introduced the kinetoscope, a device for viewing moving pictures without sound.

This 1903 kinetoscope is part of the Shiloh Museum's Vaughan-Applegate Photography Collection. The collection includes hundreds of pieces of photographic equipment collected by Springdale photographer Bruce Vaughan. In 1978, Dr. Stanley Applegate of Springdale purchased part of Vaughan's collection and donated it to the museum. Vaughan then donated the remaining portion.

Bruce Vaughan has this to say about the kinetoscope:

"When Edison invented motion pictures, he was offered a chance to patent [the] motion picture process in Great Britain for a very small amount of money. If I remember correctly, it was around $300. But he turned it down, because he said no one would sit in a dark room to watch pictures move on a screen. He thought the ultimate use of his kinetoscope would be in penny arcades, where men could deposit a penny, and watch Little Egypt doing her dance—or some such thing. But he decided to take the insides of a kinetoscope, which is the front part of this thing, and put it on an oak board. And on the back of the board he placed a lantern-slide projector.

"Notice the projector still has a carrier to show lantern slides and also that it can be shifted on the base board so that the image will project to the side of the transport mechanism on the front for showing slides on the screen as well as movies. This was the first movie projector manufactured in the U.S. to show professional movies- there had been some 'toys' before. And a projector identical to this was used at Koser and Bial Music Hall [in New York City] to project the first motion pictures ever seen in the U.S. by a theater audience."

To learn more about Thomas Edison and his kinetoscope, visit:

Thomas A. Edison Papers, Rutgers University

Edison National Historic Site


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