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A Flood of Projecting Machines

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Charles H. Webster had left the Vitascope Company by October and was involved with at least two rival motion-picture enterprises. On 21 October he, Charles G. S. Baker, and William C. McGarth incorporated the Cinographoscope Company of New York; two weeks later their cinographoscope projector was being advertised for sale. 9 At about the same time, Webster also formed the International Film Company as a co-partnership with Edmund Kuhn, and by November they were selling “dupes” of Edison films as well original films. One of their first original was SOUND MONEY PARADE , taken on 31 October. Once film production was launched, the International Film Company commenced to manufacture its own projector. This projectograph was less expensive than those previously on the market, costing $200 in December and $150 a short time later. 10

By early 1897 scores of different projectors were available to American showmen. Although little noted by historians, these machines had diverse capabilities and constructions. Some depended on electricity for power, but most were hand-cranked and the operator could use limelight as an illuminant. Many were of European origin, including Robert Paul’s highly popular animatographe, one of which toured Pennsylvania with Waite’s Comedy Company during much of the 1896-1897 theatrical season. A motograph, probably manufactured by W. Watson & Sons of London, was ballyhooed by Hi Henry’s Minstrels, and another was shown by William H. O’Neill at a Boston department store. The kinematographe, first shown at London’s Royal Aquarium in April 1896, made several American appearances, including Bradenburgh’s Ninth and Arch Museum in Philadelphia and Huber’s Museum in New York City. 11

Many projectors were built in the United States. Little more than pirated vitascopes, centographs were at Miner’s Bowery Theater in New York City during early October and toured with Irwin Brothers’ Big Specialty Company. By November, J. Whitney Beals, Jr., of Boston was selling his “Wonderful Panoramographe.” Lyman H. Howe built his own projector, the animotiscope, and integrated a small selection of Edison films into his phonograph concerts. His first public presentation took place at his hometown YMCA in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on 4 December 1896. Thereafter he traveled through Pennsylvania, New York, and New England—one of many traveling exhibitors to present film programs to people living in smaller cities and towns. William Paley was an X-ray exhibitor who had suffered adverse effects from excessive radiation—peeling skin, loss of fingernails, rapidly graying hair, and “a slight buzzing in the ears.” The English-born showman had studied electricity in his native country before coming to the United States. Abandoning X-ray exhibition, he built a projector that was similar to the vitascope but with numerous improvements. Paley used the resulting kalatechnoscope (meaning “good technical viewer”) to show films with Weber’s Olympia Company in March and then began to sell the machine for one hundred dollars. 12

William Selig, who had been a magician and theatrical-company manager, was trying to build a projector when he discovered that his machinist had surreptitiously made a duplicate cinématographe for a Lumière employee. Using the blueprints accumulated on the project, the machinist built another for Selig and modified it to take Edison-sprocketed film. 13 Charles Urban, who had had a phonograph parlor in Detroit and later toured the Midwest with a projector, had Walter Isaacs manufacture a modified Lumière cinématographe and then sold it as a bioscope.

On the West Coast, William L. Wright of Portland, Oregon, was constructing a projecting machine by early 1896. Later he moved to San Francisco, where he incorporated the United States Animatoscope Company with Gustave Walter, who ran the Orpheum vaudeville circuit, and several other entrepreneurs. Its purpose was “to deal in machines for reproducing photographic films in an enlarged form on canvas.” The animatoscope opened at the Chutes, a multi-attraction amusement center in San Francisco, around 9 November. The films were shown outdoors in the evening, with a different film projected every fifteen minutes. The amusement remained at the Chutes on a fairly regular basis for many years. Shortly after his San Francisco opening, Wright returned to Portland, operated a store show for a few days, and then continued up the coast. 14 The animatoscope had wide exposure in the Rocky Mountain area and along the West Coast.

Prominent dealers in magic-lantern goods also built and/or sold motion-picture Prominent dealers in magic-lantern goods also built and/or sold motion-picture projectors. The Riley brothers sold their kineoptoscope. Sigmund Lubin of Philadelphia enlisted the aid of C. Francis Jenkins and, after some difficulty, constructed the cineograph projector, which he offered for sale in January 1897 at a cost of $150. By the end of February, Lubin had also become an important agent for Edison films. In late March his recently formed cineograph exhibition service gave its first exhibitions in vaudeville, at Bradenburgh’s Ninth and Arch Museum, with THE CORBETT-COURTNEY FIGHT providing the theater’s main attraction. The optician soon established his own production capabilities, taking UNVEILING OF THE WASHINGTON MONUMENT on 15 May. 15

During cinema’s novelty year, motion pictures found their way into most aspects of American entertainment. By spring 1897, circuses and carnival men were using films, sometimes in light-inhibiting black tents. Leon W. Washburn’s Shows, starting out in Passaic, New Jersey, gave free exhibitions every night with the vitascope; the films featured acts that spectators could later see live in big tents and were presumably taken with Peter Kiefaber’s own camera by his chief photographer, Jacob (James) Blair Smith. The Curtis & Howard Electric Belt Company, active in Ohio and Indiana, featured a high-wire act, juggler, magician, and magniscope. The Bonheur Brothers, who traveled by wagon through the Plains states, offered a variety of acts. The magic lantern had been an important staple in their amusement repertoire, and by April they boasted an imatoscope which may have been a motion-picture machine. In large cities, exhibitions were given for advertising purposes, projected from rooftops onto large canvases hung at busy intersections such as Herald Square in New York. 16 The International Film Company’s DEWARS SCOTCH WHISKY (1897) was made for this kind of outlet. Such screen advertising had been popular in previous years, when exhibitors had shown only slides. Now films were added to their repertoire. This was part of the rich diversity of exhibition circumstances generally provided by independent exhibitors who were not associated with larger organizations.

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