W.K. Laurie Dickson, an English engineer born in 1860, is one of the guys most responsible for our modern conception
of movies. While other inventors came up with most of the basic elements
of filming and projection, Dickson was the first to put them all together.
Most of Dickson's important work was done under the pay of Thomas Edison
at Menlo Park
, New Jersey -- thus the common attribution of his accomplishments to Edison. However, Edison never really saw the importance of motion picture
s; he hired Dickson to come up with something to accompany the phonograph
, but thought the target audience was children and that even they would soon grow tired of movies
. In fact, Dickson's final camera and projection equipment invention so sparked Edison's temper at his continuation of the project without permission that he fired Dickson.
Dickson's major accomplishment was in putting several different technologies together to create motion pictures. He started by studying people like Eadweard Muybridge
who were recording motion. Then, with a vague idea of building a camera, he studied the celluloid
of John Carbutt and created an alliance with the George Eastman
company. He convinced Hannibal Goodwin
to give them his idea for a process to apply photographic emulsion
to rolling film. From this, Dickson devised a crude camera, which he called the Kinetograph
, by 1890; his first short film, Monkeyshines
, featured the movement of another of Edison's assistants. Edison had a team come up with a Kinetoscope to give a peephole
view of the film. The Kinetograph set a standard still used today - 35 mm film stock from Eastman, illuminated by an electric bulb, and advanced by sprocket
Edison was satisfied with stopping there, but Dickson wanted a way to project moving pictures to large audiences. Defying Edison's order to quit the project, he convinced Thomas Arnat
to give up a patent
on a rotating arm used on a projector. This soon led to the first motion-picture stage in an enclosed studio.
In 1895, Dickson introduced the final version of this system, the Vitascope
. Edison fired him, and Dickson immediately founded the American Biograph Company
. He remade his own invention, calling it the Muograph
, and competed with Edison's version throughout the early years of the industry. Biograph became one of the major Hollywood studios, launching the careers of countless stars such as Mary Pickford
In 1897, Dickson sold part of his interest in Biograph and went back to England to live with his mother. He died there in 1935.
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