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

1498408811142477720-00547775 (storage.googleapis.com)

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.

The Amazing 1897 Sky Cycle self-powered aircraft

The Amazing 1897 Sky Cycle self-powered aircraft

How about a trip on a self-powered aircraft?  This early heavier-than-air design combined cycling with balloon power. Successful flights were was still 6 years away when Carl Myers dreamed up this innovative sky cycle.

I, CARL EDGAR MYERS, aeronautical engineer, a citizen of the United States, and a resident of Mohawk, in the county of Herkimer and State of New York, have invented an Improvement in Sky-Cycles, of which the following is a specification.”

Photo of Carl Edgar Myers, inventor of the sky cycle

Edgar Myers

Carl Edgar Myers (March 2, 1842 – November 30, 1925) was an interesting person. Engineer, meteorologist, entrepreneur, balloonist and inventor, Myers is an unsung hero of American ingenuity and inventiveness. At the cusp of the 20th century, he explored ways to use recent technological breakthroughs in innovative ways.

One of his enduring passions was hot air balloons. Myers’ interest in ballooning appears to have arisen out of his involvement in meteorological measurements and a desire to further atmospheric studies. He built his first balloon in 1878, flying it later in 1880. He designed and manufactured various improvements for dirigibles, including improving the materials used. His home was called the Balloon Farm and is listed with the National Register of Historic Places. His contributions to early flight and meteorology are intriguing. Myers reminds me of great Otto Lilienthal and his experiments with flight.

The Aerial Velocipede Patent No. 581,218 April 20, 1897

My invention consists, first, of a new form of body possessing greater bulk or capacity with less proportional exposed surface, combined with less resistance to projectile movement through air, than any other form yet discovered or in use, and which I term a symmetrical wave line spindle shaped body, and, secondly, of certain connected devices for propulsion, more especially adapted to be operated in air, a special arrangement of which adapted to be operated by manual power I term the aerial velocipede for flying. Google Patent

The aerial velocipede was a hot air dirigible controlled by human pedal power. Myers envisioned a single seater balloon that combined elements of cycling and flight.

Self-powered aircraft with a twist

Schematic from 1897 patent showing basic outline of a self-powered aircraft with a dirigible instead of wings

Dirigible cycling for one.

The propulsion mentioned in the patent would be a unique combination of hot air balloon, wings, and pedal power for thrust and steering.

The operator seated upon the velocipede seat V grasps the hand-cranks K, attached to the gear-wheel O, while his feet may operate the foot-cranks attached to gear-wheel O, arranged to move simultaneously with C by means of gear-wheels C, attached to the hollow connecting shaft U, which revolves around the upright rod U. (Shown in detail in Fig. 3, similar letters referring to similar parts.) Gearwheel (1, attached to propeller-shaft Z, is driven by gear O, and the construction of the crank system thus permits the revolving of the screw S backward or forward by either one or both hands or feet, leaving one or both hands at liberty for other purposes when desirable. Paragraph 40 pg. 4

It’s not as complicated as it seems. The rider can use hands or feet, depending on what they are doing. The pedals are attached to a propellor shaft that gives the sky bike both a bit of lift and the ability to propel forward and backward. The design also considers the need for a rudder and wings for both stability and directional guidance.

To work the Wings, the operator grasps the … principal or secondary wing-arm at any point serving to give him proper control, the position varying advantageously by the special movement to be made. The Wing-shaft may be rotated like a crank or operated like a feathering-oar or simply move backward and forward or up and down.  Paragraph 115 pg. 5

The wings allowed the balloonist to move forward, back, and up/down.  It was, on paper, very maneuverable. But required an enormous amount of leg and arm strength to operate. For a short hop it might have been fine but exhausting for any lengthy trip.


Wills Cigarette Card from 1911 showing an Italian dirigible

Not a Myers balloon, but you can see the inspiration

The sky cycle never got off the ground. I could find no reference to it being built. Myers was no amateur dreamer. He knew his balloons. Myers continued his work building better balloons for nearly 2 more decades, including developing over 100 for the US Weather Bureau and 21 for the United States Army Signal Corps (USASC) for use in the Spanish American War. (rf: Smithsonian Institute – Carl Myers Balloon Farm Collection)

Sky Cycle self-propelled aircraft as a blueprint

I tidied up the original diagram and turned it into a clean schematic for a bit of fun. It came out surprisingly good. I tried tarting up the balloon a bit, but the design looked too busy, so I pulled back. Feel free to download the blueprint (or should I call it a black print) for your own use. The image is quite large so you might need to downsize it for your device. It’s a bit fun, and whimsical. So enjoy. Don’t forget to take a look at the details on the wings and pedals. They are impressive.

Patent drawing of the Sky Bike dirigible rewored as a blueprint design

Click on the image to see the full image

I used the schematic over at Bittergrounds.Redbubble store. The design worked well on several items and I had a lot of fun setting them up. If you go to the store, check them out in the Schematics & Blueprints category.


They do make interesting coffee coasters. Good conversation pieces

Cheers for now.


Pen tools in Photoshop & a Penny Farthing

Pen tools in Photoshop & a Penny Farthing

For over a decade I’ve avoided Photoshop’s pen tools. The struggles I’ve encountered using them have been, well, monumental. And embarrassingly frustrating. You can do wonderful things with pen tool such as take a muddy, mundane sketch and create a beautiful image with sharp, clean lines.

I had a breakthrough last week ago. I finally figured out why I struggled with them. My problem turns out to be basic. I have no sense of left/right, horizontal/vertical, clockwise/counterclockwise. If you ask me to turn counterclockwise, I stop and envision a clock face first. My brain tells me the left is -> that way. You get the picture. I’ve always known this. But it wasn’t until last week that I realised this was the root of the problem.

Those mildly quirky bits of how my brain processes certain things turns into a hinderance when working onscreen. I can’t anticipate which direction a curved too will go. I struggle to flip things and end up going through all the options before hitting the correct one. It’s impossible to work on autopilot because I need to think through every move. So, I sat down and devised a solution.

Why was it such an issue? I’ve gotten along without figuring out how to use shapes and the pen tool until now. It boils down to this – I can’t stand not figuring out how something works. I did, in fact, fire up pen tools every now and then, over the years. Frustration was the result. When I began playing around with cleaning up old patents, so they were viewable, I realised now was the time to tackle pen tools. They offered the only way of getting the crisp lines I wanted.

The line tool is basic enough. I just get impatient and oft times don’t line things up correctly. It’s the old issue of horizontal vs vertical flip and nudge a little to the right or left.  So, I sat down with the Antoinette Flyer and used it to discipline myself into getting lines even and laid down properly. Old airplanes were wonders of straight lines and cables, so it was the perfect thing to work with. Wheels were easy – the shape tools took care of that.

The propeller was problematic. I initially thought I could fudge my way through using the freehand pencil tool. It was a disaster. I wandered over to YouTube and watched a couple videos on using pen tools and that’s when I had an epiphany. Pen tools are about understanding directions. I spent a frustrating hour trying to get the curves right for the propeller and thought this isn’t going to work without someone standing over my shoulder yelling “the other left”. Little post it notes turned into the next best thing. I often have left / right notes on my screen when I’m running through a tutorial with a customer. I stuck them back on, included notes on horizontal / vertical, etc. All the little directional indicators I needed.

The propeller looked ok.

Now I felt frisky and time for more lessons with pen tools

Original sketch from an 1886 patent for a Penny Farthing bike

Here’s the original patent.

I found it in the form of a velocipede – bicycle for we mere mortals. they were nicknamed Penny Farthings. Getting all the bends correct and using different line thicknesses to create a shadow effect was a challenge. I’m a little embarrassed to admit, it took me around 8 hours to get them right. I drew them and erased over and over until I got the basics down on how the pen adjust lines.

Here’s the line drawing of the above Penny Farthing

Pen tools elevate a sketch - Line drawing of a Penny Farthing bike

Pen Tools and Shapes were ideal for this

Yes, it did take a lot of work to get the little curves correct but worth the effort. I looked at the sketch and thought it was time to elevate it to the next level.

Pen tools and a bit of colour

Final drawing of Penny Farthing with colours added

A bit of colour elevated the line drawing

I can already see ways of improving the image with a bit of free hand highlighting. That’ll take practice but will be fun.  This little patent sketch is now poster worthy. And yes, I turned this into merch. How could I not? I’m now trolling through old patents looking for other ideas to work with. This challenges my brain on so many levels. It’s exhausting but fulfilling.

The penny farthing on coasters


Wander over by clicking this link -> Bittergrounds.Redbubble to see how it looks on different things. When you get there, click on the Cycles category. I’ve been busy over at the store. Lots of things coming and going as I fuss with designs. So have fun, let me know what you think. Remember, anything you buy goes to supporting this website.


Check out my first pen tools sketch of the Antoinette Flyer mentioned above:

Cleaning up a magnificent 1908 Antoinette Flyer schematic




The Pringles can, 1 patent & a new design

The Pringles can, 1 patent & a new design

Pringles cans have been in the news lately so I thought I’d look up the original patent for the container. Along the way, I learned a few interesting things about the can, Pringles and their “hyperbolic paraboloid-shaped potato chips”, or as the rest of us describe it a big tube of chips.

Image of a Pringles can

The ubiquitous Pringles can – image courtesy Pringles


Patented Mar. 3, 1970
Filed July 29, 1966, Ser. No. 568,878
Patent #US3498798A
United States

The original Pringles can was designed before the world awoke to recycling initiatives. It’s a legacy of the notion that the world would never run out of resources. We didn’t have oceans filled with plastic waste killing off wildlife in 1966.  After years of pressure, Kellogg’s (current owners of the Pringles name) are changing the materials.

Pringles is testing a redesign using recycled paper. The current can is almost impossible to recycle. Not really the most friendly packaging when it comes to the environment. This made me curious about the original patent.

The recycling pilot project is being tested in the UK for a few weeks, using recycled paper for starters. I wondered why they aren’t just switching over to a new can all at once. Turns out, it’s more complicated than using any old materials.

Not so easy making changes to the Pringles can after all.

The original patent was filed by Fredrick J. Baur and Harold Kenneth Hawley for Procter & Gamble.  The can is composed of foil, paper board, metal and plastic. Impossible to toss into a recycling bin, unless you tear the entire tube apart. The patent was pretty cool though. I didn’t expect to see so many aspects of design to what seems to be a simple tube container.

The technology behind the Pringles can is surprising. Bauer addressed a number of marketing and packaging issues. The design had to take into consideration on how to protect fragile chips, extend shelf life and reduce space on store shelves.

Chips of uniform size and shape are stacked one upon the other in closely fitting relationship to form a stacked array, and are then placed within a rigid tubular container formed from materials which are substantially impervious to the passage of oxygen and water vapor. The ends are applied to the container to seal the same. From patent #US3498798A

Diagram from patent showing construction of Pringles can

[figure one] elevational view of a snack food package

The design addressed the issue of keeping the chips dry and preventing them from getting crushed in transportation. One aspect was the consistency of how many chips you get in each tin. It’s predictable, unlike bags. Nothing says disappointment like tearing open a bag and finding it 2/3 air and 1/3 chips. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit. It’s worse when the chips are reduced to tiny flakes of crumbs. From a marketing perspective, the tube is a killer selling point. The customer will always get the same amount of perfectly formed chips.

The can overcame issues of shelf life by minimizing “the quantity of oxygen and water vapor which is packed with the product and thereby increase the shelf life of the product by excluding excess oxygen and water vapor, thereby delaying the onset of oxidative rancidity and staling” (From patent #US3498798A() without the need for excessive preservatives. Another win for the customer in terms of taste.

So the design required quite a bit of packaging components to overcome the issues. That’s why it’s not so easy to replace the tube. It had to be vacuum sealed, fit onto any shelf space, be more compact and stackable.  It took public pressure to force the company to look for ways to simplify the can and make all components recyclable.

“Hyperbolic paraboloid-shaped potato chips”, or as the rest of us describe it – a big tube of chips.

Image of a Hyperbolic paraboloid-shape

In case you don’t know what a hyperbolic paraboloid looks like. Author: Christian Amet] File:ParabHyper.png – Wikimedia Commons

Not sure if the tube came first or the patent for the chip shape. There is a second patent dealing with the manufacturing of the actual chip. Part of the patent defines the standardized shape of potato chips to fit the can. They are a “hyperbolic paraboloid”. That means it’s a curved chip made in a uniform design. In case you’re interested regular chips are parabolic cylinder.

drawing from patent showing shape of proposed pringle chips

[figure 5 6] a perspective view of one form of potato chips which may be packaged in a container of the present invention;

Yup, that’s a hyperbolic paraboloid. I had to look this up to understand what it meant. The benefit of this change is the chips are now stackable. They can easily be plopped into a protective tube and shipped.

The chips used are of non-planar shape and are first formed into the desired curved shape in a uniform manner to permit the chips to be stacked one upon the other to form a grouped array and thereby minimize the void space there between.

The chips are stacked one upon the other with corresponding surfaces similarly oriented and are then placed in a substantially rigid, tubular container which is adapted to enclose the stack of closely packed chips. After being inserted into the tubular container, the latter is sealed closed by securing one or more ends thereto. Both the tubular container and the ends are fabricated from materials which are impervious to oxygen and water vapor to prevent the entrance of additional atmospheric oxygen and water vapor into the interior of the package which would rancidify the frying fat retained by the chips and result in the chips becoming stale. From patent #US3498798A.

In other words, the chips stack uniformly into the Pringles can. And that is how one of the most successfully marketed potato chips came to be. The design and technology created a memorable shape and package.

Watch Pringles being made

It’s an interesting process, from start to finish.

Damnit! Now I want some Pringles.


  1. Read the Pringles can patent here: US3498798A – Packaging of chip-type snack food products – Google Patents
  2. You can read more about the pilot program Recycle Pringles Cans Not sure how long the link will be active.
  3. Learn more about how the design of the chip works at Food-science Sunday : The geometry of a Pringle (zmescience.com)
  4. Pringles testing new can design after recycling group called it the ‘number one recycling villain’ | CTV News (ctvnews.ca)
This is terrifying! Two faced teddy bear anyone?

This is terrifying! Two faced teddy bear anyone?

Feast your eyes on the original Two Faced Teddy! One side is an adorable, cuddly teddy bear. The reverse, a po-faced human staring at you with dead eyes.

Drawing from a pattent showing a two faced teddy bear. Front has teddy face, back has a creepy human face



Application filed December 16, 1913 | Patented June 9, 1914.

Not sure how I stumbled across this one. I was looking for patents dealing with early radium products and became sidetracked. The sketch gives me the giggles when I look at it. The heads look like they were transplanted onto Mr. Peanut’s body. Poor Mr. Peanut, we hardly knew you.

A toy comprising in combination, a body, and a head for said body, said head having two faces thereon looking in opposite directions, one of said faces resembling that of a bear and the covering of said head being arranged to form projections serving as ears for said bear’s face, the other of said faces resembling that of a person and the cover of said head being arranged around said person’s face in the form of a cowl whereby said projections serve likewise to give a clownish effect.

Patent letters

Can you imagine waking up and seeing this staring at you? A furry human clown glowering at you in the dim light?

The actual design is quite interesting. The head swivels 180 degrees using disks and rivets/pins. The arms and legs employ swivel joints so they would be flexible.

… the head being attached to the body  by means of a swivel joint so that it can turn easily to the left or right through 180°
and sit steady and parallel with the body when facing in either direction.  Patent letters

The only example I could find of a two faced bear similar to this patent, was produced by the renowned stuffed animal maker Bernhard Hermann, sometime between 1930-1940. I could find no reference to any being developed by Louis Schiffer. I’ve tried looking for German patents for the Hermann bear as well, but had no luck. I was curious as to whether Hermann was aware of Schiffer or had developed the two-faced bear independently. They are strikingly similar.

Photo of a 2 faced teddy bear made by Hermann co.

Let’s go play in the forest. You’ll be safe. Trust me!

It’s very close to the patent, right down to the swivelling head and moveable arms. This toy is slightly less terrifying than the one in the 1914 diagram, very slightly.  The doll/bear screams out clown in the sewers asking if you want a balloon. Then again, I’ve never been a fan of dolls, so maybe it’s me.

If you’d like to see the bear in more detail, saunter over to Ruby Lane and check out it out.