Today In History: Thomas Edison and the First Motion Picture

Today In History: Thomas Edison and the First Motion Picture


Among other things Edison first worked with clumsy glass plates, unable to find flexible film that was strong enough to tolerate the stress of being jerked through camera and projector. That must have been disheartening. The coming of strong flexible film finally made him think the machine was workable,  although he still misjudged the long-range importance of the invention.

That August [1891] , George Eastman, of Rochester, New York,  produced the first film that seemed flexible  and durable enough. Edison sent [his assistant William] Disckson to New York to buy a fifty-foot length for $2.50. "We've got it!," he shouted on seeing the new film. 'Now work like hell!"

-- Forsdale, Louis. Historical Capsule 369. Edison Finds Flexible Film. Now Work Like Hell. N.p., 1990. From the Louis Forsdale Collection, Teachers College Digital Collections


On October 6th, 1889 American inventor Thomas Alva Edison (1847- 1931) showed his first motion picture, Monkeyshines, which was produced using a kinetograph, an early motion picture camera that was developed by his lab assistant William Kennedy Laurie Dickson. In this movie, one can see lab workers gesturing abruptly and with exaggerated physical dexterity to the camera.  Over subsequent years, the "talkie" would incorporate sound:  in 1891 Edison and Dickson earned a patent and were inspired to launch the kinetoscope, a device that allowed the viewer to look through a peephole as a film played below. By 1913 Edison added sound,  and the device became known as the kinetophone.

Thomas Edison is recognized for having invented the motion picture camera, though he built upon the work of English photographer Edward Muybridge and French scientist, physiologist and chronophotographer  Etienne-Jules Marey, who used photography to advance the study of locomotion (or movement) of humans and animals. 

American entrepreneur George Eastman (1854-1932) was the founder of Eastman Kodak Company which introduced photographic rolls of film and thereby greatly expanded the industry. He and Thomas Edison's experiments with color led to first Kodak color movie film in 1929.

The following articles are drawn from Proquest Historical Newspapers, which informs and inspires classroom teaching and learning:






Need to keep current, look to the past, teach a topic? The Everett Cafe features daily postings of news from around the world, and also promotes awareness of historical events from an educational context. Be sure to check additional Cafe News postings on the library blog.


  • Learning at the Library
  • News Cafe
Back to skip to quick links
occupancy image
occupancy image
occupancy image
The library is
crowded right now.
How busy?