top of page

How First Cinemas in 1890s looked like

*Some of the First Commercial Kinetoscope parlours.

Movies began in the penny arcade kinetoscopes of the 1890s. You drop a coin in the slot and peek through a viewfinder to watch grainy images of a pigeon flying, or a man running. Kinetoscopes were comprised of several images which were run at a rate of 12 images per second and were three to five seconds long. Who knew this medium would become the largest entertainment industry in world. Today’s cinemas are the result of first entrepreneurs who wanted to earn money showing motion pictures to people.

The Kinetoscope was not a projector, but introduced the basic approach that would become the standard for all cinematic projection before the advent of video, by creating the illusion of movement by conveying a strip of perforated film bearing sequential images over a light source with a high-speed shutter. Patented by French Inventor Louis le Prince, Kinetoscope was first developed and used by Thomas Edison in 1889, and was introduced to public in 1893. Edison’s assistant William Dickson helped in development of the camera and the projection system.

When opened to public, a small film, approximately 3 seconds long ‘Dicksons Greeting’ was showed, which The New York Sun described what they encountered:

'In the top of the box was a hole perhaps an inch in diameter. As they looked through the hole they saw the picture of a man. It was a most marvelous picture. It bowed and smiled and waved its hands and took off its hat with the most perfect naturalness and grace. Every motion was perfect...'

Soon enough Kinetophones were developed in which a viewer could listen to the sound synchronised with the visuals. Inventors Lumiere brothers and Skladanowsky brothers developed similar Kinetophones and introduced these in Europe and India.

The Cinema, earlier known as Motion Picture House comprised of 10 Kinetoscopes on an average. The viewer would pay 25 cents to half a dollar to watch the film. Many entrepreneurs started their own exhibition parlours in several states which would earn approx. $1400 a month ($40,000 in todays value) and rent a film for $10 from the filmmaker. It was a highly profitable business which laid the foundation to today’s multibillion dollar Cinema Exhibition Chains.

Watch this documentary by American Public Broadcasting system:

Follow Diorama International Film Festival and Market on:


It's time you explore our Online Certified Film courses developed by the Indian Film Institute on Unibred.

Get skilled in Filmmaking and learn with Award-Winning Filmmakers. The courses cover Screenplay to Direction, Cinematography to Editing, Short Film making, and Distribution to Festivals.


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page