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THE MARVELOUS ELECTRIC PHANTOSCOPE

armat invention exhibition jenkins

This is unquestionably the most wonderful electric invention of the age. It is the first public exhibition and nothing like it has ever been seen before, consequently is difficult to describe.

By means of this wonderful invention you see a perfect reproduction, full life size, of the living originals, every act and motion absolutely perfect, even to the wink of an eye.

Repertoire includes two acts from Trilby; one act from 1492; Carmencita, Sousa’s Band; dances, fist fight; Annabelle in the Sun and Serpentine dances; a cock fight and numerous other interesting subjects.

It is located at the extreme east end of the Midway and everyone should see it (21 October 1895).

Jenkins and Armat were ready for crowds, which never came. According to Jenkins, “The exhibition, itself, was a very successful one,” but there were few patrons. 20

The problem was primarily one of promotion. The Cotton States Exposition attracted other people in the moving-picture field, and the phantoscope’s significance may well have been lost on the casual fairgoer. Gray Latham was there with the eidoloscope, and Frank Harrison represented Raff & Gammon’s Kinetoscope Company with its peephole machines. Latham saw screenings of the Armat-Jenkins projector and vice versa. While Jenkins and Latham privately discussed the possibility of working together in the future, Armat conversed with Harrison. As Armat recalled, “He was very much impressed with the exhibition, and stated to me that Messers. Raff and Gammon were exceedingly anxious to secure such an apparatus as that I was exhibiting.” 21

Jenkins eventually left the Exposition and took one of the three phantoscopes to his brother’s wedding in Richmond, Indiana. Films were then shown at his father’s jewelry store, and according to the Richmond Daily Times, “Those fortunate enough to see them were enraptured at the wonderful and beautiful effects seen.” In Atlanta Armat experienced unexpected difficulties, however: on 15 October 1895 a fire was started in the adjacent “Old Plantation Show” and badly damaged the partners’ theater. 22 Discouraged by this and the poor box-office receipts, Armat soon left.

After they returned to Washington, Armat and Jenkins had a falling-out. Once again, a collaboration that had produced valuable results broke down as the invention began to be exploited for financial gain. Each man then acted independently and sought to maximize his claims and commercial opportunities. On 25 November, Jenkins filed a patent application, maintaining that the phantoscope was his own exclusive invention. He also arranged a screening at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia on 18 December, just prior to the opening of the eidoloscope at Keith’s Bijou Theater. Meanwhile, Armat arranged an exhibition for Raff & Gammon. According to Armat:

In the month of December 1895, Mr. Gammon came over to my office on F street to see an exhibition. I had the machine in the basement of the office. Mr. Gammon stated to me in the office, before he went down to see the exhibition in the basement, that he did not believe that I had a successful apparatus for projecting pictures, as his firm had been endeavoring for months to have Mr. Edison produce for them a successful machine for this work. He stated that he had not been able to produce such a machine, and that he did not believe that anyone else could. When he saw the exhibition he was very much astonished, and the result of our interview on that occasion was the contract under which his firm undertook to exploit the invention ( Animated Projecting Co. v. American Mutoscope Co. , p. 87).

Just as Raff & Gammon were contemplating the abandonment of their moving-picture business, Armat’s machine offered them new hope. For Armat and his relatives, it was a way to exploit the invention without risking additional capital.

The preceding chapters have traced the history of projected images as a cultural practice originating in the mid seventeenth century. From this early date the screen developed dynamically, its practitioners incorporating technological advances in a timely fashion (chapter 1). A second line of pre-cinema development occurred with the invention and exploitation of communication technologies—telegraph, telephone, phonograph, and so forth—and was centered to an unusual degree at Thomas Edison’s New Jersey laboratories in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. For Edison and his competitors, these successive breakthroughs reached a culmination of sorts with the kinetograph. This achievement confirmed a shift from pragmatic, business-oriented technologies to consumer-oriented ones (chapter 2). By adapting Edison’s motion pictures to the magic lantern, American inventors and entrepreneurs brought about a conjunction of these two lines of development. This synthesis had been achieved by the end of 1895, but its effects had not yet been felt in the social and cultural life of the nation (chapter 3). That would occur in the “novelty year” of 1896-1897, which is the focus of the following chapters.

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