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.

Surface Duo now pre-ordering

Surface Duo now pre-ordering

Be still my beating heart – Surface Duo is now pre-ordering.  If you haven’t seen it yet, you’ve missed out on the best news of the summer.

Surface Duo is the perfect road warrior – compact, light-weight and innovative.

Oh yes, I’m a fangirl! When I started looking at the specs, I expected to see it running a variation of Win 10, like the “s” version. I was surprised to learn Duo runs the latest version of Android – 10, and comes with the usual complement of Google apps like maps, chrome, app store etc. You’ll be able to load up on your favourite Android apps without a fuss. Streaming fans take note, it has Chromecast built-in. As expected with any Microsoft device, it also comes complete with the 365 Office suite right out of the box. It feels like the best of both the Android and Microsoft worlds.

What makes me so excited? Well, the hinged duo screens. The Surface Duo  operate either independently as two separate screens or as an extended widescreen. On top of that, it has a built in keyboard, the user can swipe out of the way when not needed.  No need to purchase a separate keyboard. That little convenience keeps the device weight to a minimum. Take a look:

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That’s flexibility. At less than 8oz, this  feather light tablet collapses down into book size.  You have a choice of 128GB or 256GB storage and is equipped with Gorilla Glass so it should be robust enough to handle most situations.  Theoretically, it has a 15hr battery life, but we’ll have to see if that pans out. I rarely find battery time promises live up to expectations.

Unfortunately, it’s $1,300 price tag will put it out of a lot of people’s reach, including myself. If you manage to get your hands on one, drop a message below and let us know how it runs. We’ll live vicariously through you.

We were promised magnificent flying cars

We were promised magnificent flying cars

I know I promised irradiated feet, but I couldn’t pass up the Edsel of flying cars. Take a moment to appreciate the breathtaking fins on this:

Sketch from the Einarsson Flying Car patent showing front and side as a car

Einarsson Flying Car patent

Every time I look at the drawing, I think it needs to be a deep cherry red with chrome so bright you need sunglasses to withstand the glare. Sarcasm aside, this design is very much a product of the times. Designed in the late ‘50s and patented in 1963, the Einarsson Flying Car has an admirable meshing of luxury car with the sleekness of a James Bond getaway vehicle. Oh, and those fins!

The dream of turning a car into an airplane goes back to at least the 1930s.  I remember the “future of tomorrow” films of the 60s that had us zipping around with our own personal jetpacks and Jetson-like flying cars by the turn of the century. The future was so full of yet to be conquered technological wonders that would make our lives easier. Instead of flying cars in every driveway, we ended up with Twitter in every pocket. The disappointment is crushing.


A few actual working flying car prototypes have made if off the drawing board. The most notable being the 6 designs build by (Molt) Taylor Aerocar in the late 40s and 50s. One was still flying as late as 2008 and there’s a website devoted to people hoping to buy one. They look like traditional 2-seater aircraft with larger, road ready wheels, except for the Taylor III, which resembles a Franken-mini. Looking at Taylors got me thinking about other attempts, which in turn led me to one Einar Einarsson and his patent for a Flying Car.

Patent 3,090,581
May 21, 1963
Filed Aug 12 1959
Inventor: Einarsson Einar

A vehicle capable of cruising on land and in the air comprising a body, a plurality of wheels mounted under the body to support the vehicle while on the ground, means for supplying power to the wheels for cruising on the ground, front and rear propellers mounted on the body to provide for take-off and cruising power when in the air, and a pair of pivotally mounted wings secured on the body and being adjustable as to the angles to the horizontal for take-off and cruising positions for the wings, said propellers being connected to receive power from the power supplying means and the wings forming a wing extending from the front propeller to the rear propeller with a bridging element to receive the pressure between the propellers

Einarsson’ s design borrows heavily on the Aerocar idea, with a number of alterations that shows a bit of forward thinking. Looking through the cited patents in Einarsson’s filings, I find it curious there are no references to Molt Taylor’s patents. However, I’m neither a lawyer nor an engineer and my knowledge of both is just enough to show how much I don’t know.

A sedan with wings

Unlike almost every flying car design I looked at, Einarsson seemed to envision a luxury sedan with wings, rather than a compact, economical model. It would be the ultimate marriage of the sleek 1950s tail fin stylings with a private aircraft.

Sketch from the Einarsson Flying Car patent showing front and side with propellors showing

Einarsson Flying Car patent showing front and side with propellers

The Taylor flying car relied on a push propeller. For those in the audience who aren’t aviation fans, let’s take a quick break to explain. The rest can skip down a few paragraphs. Aircraft today (excluding jets) generally have the propeller on the front of the plane – either on the wings or the nose. This is referred to as a pull propeller because it pulls the airplane forward. Although this is considered the traditional form, the earliest aeroplanes used a push propeller. Here are two famous examples:

Here’s a Farman biplane

Scan of a postcard showing a Farman biplane in flight

And one of my favourites, Alexander Graham Bell’s Silver Dart:

Photo of the Silver Dart biplane in flight

The Silver Dart

Sketch from the Einarsson Flying Car patent showing front and side with propellers showing

Front and side with propellers

See the difference with modern airplanes? The propeller is seated to the back (behind the pilot) and pushes the airplane forward. Many pioneer aeroplanes used this style and, if you poke around google a bit, you can find a couple modern planes that use it as well, though it’s not very common.
The Einarsson Flying Car proposed using both the push and pull propellers in what is called a push-pull configuration. This has some benefits re: drag and stability if one engine dies but it also greatly decreases fuel efficiency.

The hood and trunk pop open so propellers can slide out and be affixed front and back.  “A further object of the invention resides in a flying car with front and rear propellers of which the front propeller is of the pulling type and the rear propeller is of the pusher type”.

The added weight along with 2 engines capable of creating enough lift stirs up a few questions. Looking at one of my favourite pioneer planes – the Antoinette Flyer (1906), the V8 engine in that wood and cloth aeroplane weights 209 lbs alone. I wonder how large an engine would need to be to lift a large, steel, 2 propeller car with wings, carrying both driver and passengers. Modern aircraft have the advantage of lightweight materials to help with the tricky weight problem. They also benefit from modern micro circuitry that creates efficient instrument panels. Neither of which were available in the early 60s. The Einarsson Flying Car would be the original heavy metal behemoth. The patent makes no mention of instrumentation and glosses over engines, two crucial components. Perhaps Einarsson was more interested in basic over-all design at this stage.

 … each car may have a common plant to drive both the ground wheels as well as propellers with suitable clutch devices to control one or the other cruising power. Separate power plants may be used for air travel jet engines may also be used with and without the use of propellers.

There wasn’t a hope in hell a jet engine was going to be affixed to the car. Imagine the havoc caused on roads when someone kicked on the engine. The backwash alone would be a public hazard. One also has to wonder what the noise level would be inside the car with both engines running whether jet or regular.  

Getting back to the patent, Einarsson envisioned foldable wings, although this is also frustratingly vague. The best I can figure is they would fold flat against the body when not used. This wasn’t going to be a one touch convertible model. To use the wings, the driver would have to pull them out and affix them, which sounds a bit like an arm strong application – better have a strong set of arms to put them in place. I’ll leave you to read about the wings and let me know how you think they’ll work.

Sketch from the Einarsson Flying Car patent showing side view

Move over Jetsons

The sheer weight alone would make this one expensive vehicle to run. Which led me down another rabbit hole or two of conjecture – what about fuel. The basic car would run on regular gas, but the air and jet options would require special fuel. Without easy access jet fuel, the lack of infrastructure doomed that part of the design, not to mention proper pilot training to run a jet-propelled aircraft. I also wondered how much space the vehicle would need for takeoff. This isn’t a compact little Taylor Aerocar. As I wrote earlier, this would be a behemoth of steel, chrome, and engines. I wonder what the overall weight would be. I have about 20 other questions but, I’ll save them for another discussion because I can see another couple of patent articles in the making.

So where now with the promise of flying cars?

Though most entrepreneurs like Elon Musk have abandoned the idea as impractical, there are companies currently building working prototypes. Look at the heart stopping lines on this beauty:

Photo of the new Aeromobile flying car https://www.aeromobil.com

Aeromobile flying car https://www.aeromobil.com

It’s from Aeromobile in Slovakia and boasts a vertical takeoff, a parachute system embedded, lightweight materials, stowable wings much more.  To me these vehicles are as exciting as early pioneer airplanes like the Bleriot, Silver Dart and Antoinettes. My interest in aircraft pretty much ends with the advent of metal frames. Biplanes, especially pioneer aircraft, get my heart racing in a way very little else does. But modern flying car designs seem to be triggering the same effect on my pulse, so I’ve been deep diving into flying car patents, having fun looking at the ideas pushing them forward. And yea, I’d go for a fly in one in a heartbeat. Hand me the waiver, strap me in and let’s go!

Read more: 

  1. EINARSSON FLYING CAR patent US3090581A https://patents.google.com/patent/US3090581A/en
  2. Taylor Aerocar https://www.tayloraerocar.com/ and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molt_Taylor for information on the brilliant mind behind it.
  3. Molt Taylor is one of those wildly underappreciated pioneers and I highly recommend you spend time googling his name.
  4. This is my absolute favourite airplane Antoinette Flyer: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antoinette_IV
  5. Silver Dart: http://airforcemuseum.ca/en/aircraft-2/silver-dart/aea-and-the-silver-dart
  6. Farman Aviation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farman_Aviation_Works
  7. Aeromobile: https://www.aeromobil.com/aeromobil-4_0/
The unmitigated terror of lawn darts – why they were banned

The unmitigated terror of lawn darts – why they were banned

Are you old enough to remember being terrified of being skewered by lawn darts? You know, those metal pointed, weighted darts that look like miniature javelins with fins? In any other dimension, they’d be treated as a weapon, not a game for children. I’m periodically stuck on the subway with nothing to do but let my brain wander through a tangled landscape of ideas and half written articles and during an epic delay underground recently, I began thinking about lawn darts and wondered why I no longer saw them.

Photo of an old Hasbro Javelin Lawn Darts set

Everything is fun and games until you get a lawn dart in the head

Scan from 1970 Hasbro Lawn Dart Patent

Drawing from the 1970s patent for lawn darts

Nightmare memories of lawn darts

We had a neighbour, years ago, who owned a set, decades ago, and I hated them… the darts, not the neighbours. Their kids where a bit cavalier about launching them into the air and woe to anyone who got in their way. The metal tipped missiles created havoc when they went astray.  I looked for the original lawn dart patent from sometime in the 1950s but had no luck. I managed to dig up an old Hasbro patent application from 1970 that reworked the design a bit.

The pointy bit was still made of a heavy metallic material (usually lead) so it would hit the ground with sufficient force and not wobble about. The new bit was a proposal to use molded plastic for the fins and shaft to cheapen the costs per unit.

“Referring now to the drawings, there is shown generally at 10 a dart construction comprising a weighted head portion 12, a metallic shaft 14 extending from one end thereof and terminating in point 16, an elongated plastic shaft 18 extending from the opposite end of head portion 12, and a tubular portion 20 having vanes 22 extending integrally there from.” 1

Drawing from Irwin Toy's lawn dart patent 1975 - details on how they are constructed

Details from Irwin toy’s lawn dart patent

Irwin also manufactured a popular series.

I couldn’t find the original patent but did find one from 19762. It looks equally deadly:

In hindsight, it should never have been a game marketed to kids. Then again, my neighbours shouldn’t have left the darts unattended, but that was the 60s – survival of the fleetest of foot.  The concept of lawn darts is a fun one … the delivery, not so much if you get nailed by one, which prompted me to see if anyone has produced a solution to their deadliness. The trick, I suspect, is the darts must have several features to be effective, including sufficient weight and a pointy end that sticks into the ground, which is what makes them such efficient weapons. Without a tip, proper weight distribution and fin length, you end up having a sad game of “toss the metal tube about and hope it eventually sticks into the ground”.

The metal tipped version was outright banned in Canada in 1989.  Why? According to tests, lawn darts could exert 23,000 pounds of pressure psi – enough to crack through a human skull and puncture the brain. Which it did. In less than a 10-year span, over 6,000 people made trips to the emergency room for treatment – 80% were under 15 years old and 50% under 10.  The injuries included “punctures, lacerations and fractures to the head and skull”3, along with eye injuries, usually to bystanders.

“The combined factors of weight, the narrow-elongated shaft, the speed that the dart is traveling at the time of impact, and the thickness of the child’s skull at the point of impact present the risk.” Consumer Product Safety Commission3

In the US the darts were eventually banned, unbanned, and then banned again [see articles below for the full, tragic story].  It’s a bit complicated. Currently, there is a brisk trade in used sets. Just scan Kijiji or Craig’s list in the summer and you’ll see people begging to find a set to buy. I spotted one person offering over $200 for a set.  I was a bit surprised by this, especially given their ability to maim. Nostalgia overrides safety sometimes.

Safe lawn darts

As it turns out, a few people filed patents for safe lawn darts. Most didn’t make it off the drawing board. Many of the patents focused on using a blunt tip. It’s a decent idea, but the darts don’t always stick into the dirt, in as much as they plop to the ground and bounce about a bit. Given enough height, they will penetrate the ground, but then we’re back to the same issue – weight, height and skulls don’t mix. Others tried a combination of lighter non-metal darts with blunt tips or flat bottoms rather than tips. Again, people complained about lack of control when the darts were thrown. The thing about traditional lawn darts is they stayed where they dropped, making it easier to score.

Photo of Coleman's Lawn Dart sets - modern safety "darts"

Safety lawn darts from Coleman

Most modern versions of lawn darts have settled on a uniform design:

Coleman’s is typical – blunt, flat bottomed, soft end to prevent skull damaged and weighted to help with stability. Poof makes a set that looks a bit more like a traditional lawn dart, and using the Jarts brand name, but with a round plastic ends rather than metal. Far safer, but many people complained they couldn’t stand up to a lot of impacts and fell apart.

photo of Poof companies safety Jarts

Jarts – safe lawn darts

The biggest issue is the newer lawn darts bounce about too much making it hard to score. Most complaints appear to come from people who played the original lawn dart games and lament the lack of accuracy and control the old javelin styled darts had. Issues seem to revolve around whether the ground is too hard and dry, or the grass is too long. Either cause serious bounceage (not a word, I know). I suppose you could hose down the backyard before playing but that brings a new set of problems to the game. Without the traditional javelin point, bounce will continue to be an issue. But seriously, it’s a backyard game not the Olympics.

I have an idea that might work. Get a large cloth made of Velcro, cut it into squares with numbers and scatter them around the yard. They need to be largish swaths of material or the game won’t work.  Then Velcro tip flat bottomed darts. The darts should come in varying weights for different types of throwers, like real darts. Space out the cloths and then when you throw, the darts stick. Miss the cloth? Oh, it’s like falling off the dart board, no score.  I like Velcro – it can solve so many of life’s little problems.


Read more:






  1. Original Patent https://www.google.com/patents/US3672678?dq=inassignee:%22Hasbro+Industries,+Inc.%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj04eSevKfVAhUi5YMKHchxCfw4ChDoAQh     kMAk
  2. Irwing Out Door Darts Patent https://patents.google.com/patent/US3982762A/en?q=lawn+dart&assignee=Irwin
  3. Consumer Product Safety Commission https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CFR-2015-title16-vol2/pdf/CFR-2015-title16-vol2-part1306.pdf
“Drive like lightening”, the Robertson Screw

“Drive like lightening”, the Robertson Screw

How’s this for a piece of cool technology, the Robertson Screw?

Image of a Robertson screw courtesy By User:Saforrest - Taken by User:Saforrest on 9 October 2007, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2888264

Behold – the Robertson Screw

How many of us have cursed the traditional flathead screwdriver- usually that nanosecond you feel it slip in the groove and you know you’re about to suffer a disgustingly, ugly hand wound. Or cursed the Philips screw because the little star shape became damaged when the driver slipped.  There have been many attempts at improving the basic screw and my favourite is a Canadian innovation.

Development of the Robertson screw

Image of P. L. Robertson's patent illustration of Robertson Screw @1908

Patent illustration of Robertson Screw @1908Why is this a great example of tech at work? The design improves on an old idea – slip a screwdriver into the snug little square head and you can get an amazing amount of power behind it. Well, plus, for people like me who are a menace around power tools of all sorts, you never run the risk of the drill winging off creating embarrassing divots along the woodwork. There is a reason I don’t do home repairs.  But I’ll leave that for another tale.

Photo of P. L. Robertson, inventor of Robertson screw

P. L. Robertson, inventor of Robertson screw

Peter Lymburner Robertson is one of those underappreciated Canadian inventors who built a small empire a one small screw. Although many are familiar with the square head screw (commonly referred to as a Robertson), few associate it with the man who invented it. That’s him over at the side. Robertson was living in Hamilton, Ontario and worked as a travelling salesman for a Philadelphia tool company.  He often related a tale of how and why he invented the square screw. Robertson was demonstrating a spring loaded screwdriver in the summer of 1907 (the date varies between 1906 and 1907, depending on which source you look at) when it slipped and he received a bad slice on his hand. After that, he began designing a slip-less screwdriver. Withing a year, he had a satisfactory design and filed for a patent in Canada. By 1912, he held the patent internationally.

The simplicity in the design is awe inspiring:

This invention relates to screws, the heads of which have axial driving recesses or cavities instead of transverse slots punched therein and the invention consists in a recess or cavity extending into the screw head, the outer portion of the recess or cavity being prismatic and the inner portion thereof being pyramidal, the apex of the pyramid being in the axial line of the prism and of the screw. (from patent papers)

In short, the screw slot is square and punched deep into the screw head rather than a slot running the length of the screw. What makes this screw so much better than a slotted one?  Plop the screwdriver into the recessed square and it’s gripped tightly with nowhere really to slip off. You can start turning with no fear of it popping out. As well, the grip is so solid, you can put a lot of force behind each turn of the screw. The square shape also makes for a much hardier screw and more difficult to strip. As well, because the screwdriver fits so snugly into the square head, it’s possible to drill the screw with one hand, adding to its overall utility. 

Ad for the Robertson Screw

Robertson Screw ad

This was an important innovation, especially with industries looking to save time and money – a screw that could be inserted faster saved big dollars. It’s a bit hard to believe, but consider this, fewer slips of the screwdriver meant less damage to the item being manufactured. A win, win situation.

Robertson screw fails to gain a foothold

After WW1, the Ford Motor Co initially used the Robertson on its Model T and A cars. By using the Robertson, Ford said his company could save an average 2 hrs assembly time on each vehicle. This presented a massive advantage in both savings and getting cars to market faster. The deal to use the Robertson fell apart when Ford wanted P.L. Robertson to sign an agreement that would allow Ford to make and hold all distribution rights for the huge US market. Robertson was averse to signing a deal that potentially meant he would lose control over his invention.  Robertson refused to turn any rights over and unfortunately, when no monopoly was forthcoming, Ford switched over to the Philips screw. Philips was more than happy to hand over the rights.  In an odd twist of fate, this failed deal meant the Robertson never really took hold in the US, but it’s ubiquitous here in Canada. I doubt there are many toolboxes that don’t have a few Robertson screw drivers rolling around inside.

Read more:

Archives Canada – Robertson Screw and Screwdriver
You can download the patent here: https://patents.google.com/patent/US975285A/en?q=screw,roberston&inventor=Peter+Robertson&before=19100101
Robertson Fastener website has a bit of info as well