May 15, 2021 - April 10, 2022Online Exhibit

boy and girl sharing popcorn

There’s something about the phrase “let’s go to the movies” that strikes a chord within nearly all of us.  What often begins as a childhood rite of passage, the act of watching a film in a theater, slips effortlessly into a lifelong pastime.  For some, it is a tradition to be shared with generations of family.  For others, it’s an opportunity to spend time with someone special or even alone with one’s thoughts.  For all though, it’s an experience unlike any other form of entertainment.

The history of moving pictures bears much resemblance to any good film plot that you might see today, with its nuances and story twists.  It all started with a bet.  Eadweard Muybridge, an English photographer, took a series of photographs in rapid succession, of a horse galloping.  The images were meant to settle a wager placed between businessman Leland Stanford and a group of friends.  It was Stanford’s belief that there was a moment during the horse’s stride that all four hooves were off the ground.  He asked Muybridge to take the pictures to prove his theory.  When Muybridge did, Stanford was validated.  In 1878, Scientific American magazine published the images and asked readers to view them through a zoetrope (a device that gave the illusion of motion.)

color ad showing a vitascope projecting an image on a screenInventors across Europe and the United States saw the publication and the quest to create the perfect means of capturing and projecting movement took off.  Two names rose to the top, Louis Lumiere and Thomas Edison.  It was Edison, along with his assistant William Dickson, who reached the top first.  They came up with the Kinetograph (a camera for motion pictures) and the Kinetoscope (a projection machine).  They tested the devices out to the public in 1894.  At about the same time in France, the Lumiere Brothers, Auguste and Louis, developed the Cinematographe.  It could project 16 frames per second and the public was awestruck by the simple but very effective display of motion.   The mad dash to stake a claim in the industry of moving films had begun.

Above: Detail of Saturday Evening Post cover, April 4, 1942.  Illustrated by Douglass Crockwell