1895 Kinetoscope, the Viviscope – technology as art

1895 Kinetoscope, the Viviscope – technology as art

I found the coolest patent design while looking for something entirely unrelated – an 1895 Kinetoscope, also called the Viviscope. The diagrams are wonderful.

Sketches from an 1895 patent showing parts of a Kinetoscope

Technology as art – the Viviscope by W. C. Farnum, Arlington, Vermont

A kinetoscope was a forerunner of moving pictures machines. They allowed the viewer to watch moving images through a tube or window.

In it, a strip of film was passed rapidly between a lens and an electric light bulb while the viewer peered through a peephole. Behind the peephole was a spinning wheel with a narrow slit that acted as a shutter, permitting a momentary view of each of the 46 frames passing in front of the shutter every second. The result was a lifelike representation of persons and objects in motion. Kinetoscope | Definition, Inventors, History, & Facts | Britannica

The original concept was developed by Thomas Edison, but the work in making a functioning kinetoscope was done by William Kennedy Dickson. Edison, in typical Edison style, took sole credit for its creation, although historians tend to see it as a collaborative effort. Dickson finished work on the kinetoscope by 1892 and Edison patented the work shortly afterwards.

There were several kinetoscope patents filed in the late 1890s, but this one by William Carleton Farnum was the best looking of the lot. Now, that doesn’t mean it would have been functional. But as far as technology as art goes, this one is stunning. The diagrams show a far better attention to detail than many I see during my patent searches.

Patent No. 547,775 was granted to Farnum on Oct. 15, 1895. He envisioned the kinetoscope as a new method for advertising. His design utilized what he called a “transfer roller” to move the pictures instead of mirrors used in other kinetoscope designs.

…wave-movement is applied through the medium of a flexible band which encircles the periphery of a cylinder, so that the slack loop is taken up on a roller, which I have called a “transfer roller,’ and by it can be carried completely around the cylinder very much as the tides move around the earth, and as the wave takes

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1895 Kinetoscope roller showing animated sequences of a man moving

Diagram of the Kinescope roller

When I tried to find information on the inventor nothing came up in my searches, until I turned to European sources and there it was, a working Farnum’s Viviscope.

Photo of W.C. Farnum's Kinetoscope

W.C. Farnum’s 1895 Kinetoscope, Image courtesy La Cinematheque Français

Not only are the design schematics fameworthy, but the entire machine is a work of art. It was manufactured by Elias Bernard Koopman of New York, 50 Union Square, N. Y.  Koopman was one of the founders of American Mutoscope and Biograph Company and is known for his contributions to early cinema. One of the other founders of was William Kennedy Dickson, the same man who worked for Edison. Dickson left Edison’s company shortly after creating the kinetoscope and started the American Mutoscope. It’s an interesting bit of intersecting cinema history,

The Viviscope consisted of a hand driven geared mechanism working on a vertical spindle mounted in a hollow column, attached to the base. Fixed to the top of the column was a platform, having a shallow tin cylinder. An arm carrying a roller fixed to its longest end, was attached to the vertical spindle, which imparted the necessary movement to the paper figure bands and passed each successive picture in the form of a loop, in front of the viewing aperture. The strips of pictures were somewhat similar to those used in the zoetrope, with the exception that the two ends were joined together to form an endless band, and by placing one of these bands of pictures in correct position on the instrument and turning the handle the figures were shipped in rapid sequence from one phase of movement to the next, and when viewed through the framed opening, apparent movement could be observed. It is interesting to read the patent specification of the Viviscope, as the inventor claims for the application of its use as being eminently suitable for advertising purposes in railway trains and for exhibition purposes. There were also suggested different forms, amongst which was a rather elaborate multiple instrument, but it achieved no commercial success”

(Will Day, manuscript, 25,000 Years to Trap a Shadow, archives Cinémathèque française).

“It achieved no commercial success” answered one of the questions I had while researching the machine – what happened to the design? There was quite a bit of competition and despite making it off the drawing board, never found a market. Farnum patented one or two other devices and then seems to have disappeared off the pages of history.

If you like the design, check out the t-shirt,  “1895 Kinetoscope – Antique cameras and film” T-shirt by BitterGrounds | Redbubble. The clean lines in the schematic are appealing and work well on ts etc. Yes, this is a shameless plug for my Redbubble store. Many of these old patents are beautiful and worthy of remembering and celebrating. There is a vibrancy and excitement to the inventions that is contagious.

Photo of a tshirt showing the viviscop diagrams

Technology as art

If you enjoyed this article, I have more early patents here: Articles About History Of Tech | Bitter Grounds Magazine I tend to wander all over the technology map looking for intriguing designs. You never know what will pop up.

Cheers for now.