History of Cinema 2 – The Mutoscope

The Mutoscope was invented by W. K. L. Dickson and Herman Casler and later patented by Herman Casler on November 21, 1894. It was incredibly popular and spread across the world quickly.

Many different styles and sizes were made. They could be set up anywhere as they were manual machines. You would insert you coins, anywhere form one cent to five cents, and turn the crank. The payment gave you a set amount of time to view the film.

The principal was simple so many different versions of the Mutoscope were made. Occasionally the machine would be altered to fit a client’s needs. The differing versions included a countertop design, more elaborate housings for fancier venues, a row of connected machines to show a longer film (something for another post), and they could alter the size of the spindle to have more or less frames.

It functions very simply. There are cards with individual images, frames in current terms, secured in order on a spindle. A small stop causes the cards to pause long enough for the eye to register the image before moving on.

Anyone with the means of production could make a film and distribute it. A person in Ohio could see a film in New York, go back to their studio and produce the same content for distribution. At this time, content would be very similar to YouTube today.

Below is an example of what was seen in the viewer. This is a complete film which depicts a popular dance at the time. Cakewalk was exhibited in the early 1900s.

Cakewalk 1903

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