William Kennedy Dickson
Born of a French mother and Scottish father, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson moved to the USA in 1879 where, four years later, he obtained a job with Thomas Alva Edison.
In his first years with Edison, Dickson worked on research projects in electrical engineering and iron-ore milling. He was also a skilled and keen photographer.
In June 1889, Edison first asked Dickson to work on the project that Edison had been developing since the sequence photographer Eadweard Muybridge had suggested the idea of moving pictures to him in February 1888.
Dickson struggled for some time to coat drums with a photographic emulsion of sufficient sensitivity to produce twenty-five microscopic images a second. It was not until he obtained sheets of celluloid photographic film that he achieved some success.
William Kennedy Dickson and
Working with William Heise, Dickson devised a camera (the Kinetograph) and viewing device (the Kinetoscope) that used ¾inch (19cm) wide film with a single row of sprockets.
He changed to a film 35mm wide that was less prone to physical damage. In the final version of the Kinetograph, the film was transported vertically through the camera, producing individual frames 1 x ¾ inch (2.5 x 1.9cm).
There were four rectangular perforations on each side of the frame. This format became universally adopted by the film industry and, with slight modifications, is still used today.
Dickson designed the first-ever film studio at West Orange: a glass-roofed shack built on a turntable so that it could be turned to follow the sun. Known as the 'Black Maria' because of its resemblance to a police wagon, it was ready in May 1893.
With the impending commercial release of the Kinetoscopes, Dickson concentrated on making films.
The first ten Kinetoscopes were installed at the Holland brothers' Kinetoscope Parlour in Broadway, New York, which opened on 14 April 1894.
Holland Brothers' Kinetoscope Parlour
Over the next year, business boomed, though that was not to last, as people tired of the novelty of the peep-show viewer. Dickson himself was secretly involved with one of the Kinetoscope agents, Otway and Gray Latham, who were working on the invention of a projector.
At the same time, Dickson was also in partnership with three other entrepreneurs in a venture that became the American Mutoscope Company. Dickson provided the basic idea for the flip-card viewer that Casler developed into the Mutoscope (better-known as the 'What the Butler Saw' machine).
Dickson left Edison In April 1895 and in December the Mutoscope Company was formed with Dickson as one of its four partners and in charge of film production.
In 1897, Dickson returned to Britain with a Biograph camera where he filmed the royal family and Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee procession. He travelled throughout Europe filming Kaiser Wilhelm, Emperor Franz Joseph and the Pope.
Dickson’s film career came to an end in 1903 when he left British Biograph. From 1906 onwards he was established in London as an electrical engineer. He died in 1935.