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Advent of Cinema

Scientists and inventors set photographs into motion—and make movies.


Blacksmithing Scene

W. K. L. Dickson, William Heise
(French, 1860–1935)

1893. 35mm print, black and white, silent, approx. 27 sec..

As its title describes, Blacksmithing Scene shows three blacksmiths (played by staff in Thomas Edison’s laboratory) hammering a piece of metal. They pause to pass around a bottle of beer and then resume their work. Because their activities were shot with a fixed camera and are confined to a single, unedited, 35-second-long take, Blacksmithing Scene resembles a moment of live theater more than it does the complexly structured movies that would begin to be developed in the early years of the 20th century.

Blacksmithing Scene is one of the first films ever made and one of the earliest generated out of the laboratory Edison established in New Jersey. Since the inventor used it during his debut of the Kinetoscope in Brooklyn, New York, it was also the first film in a commercially viable format to be shown publicly. Edison himself did not direct films, but he oversaw a stable of filmmakers who produced them under the auspices of his company. Blacksmithing Scene was made by William Heise and Edison’s assistant and protégé, William K. L. Dickson, who would later co-found The American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, much to the consternation of his former boss, who attempted to sue Biograph out of existence.

Shot with the Kinetograph for viewing in the Kinetoscope, Blacksmithing Scene was filmed in still another of Edison’s and Dickson’s inventions, a multi-chambered structure dubbed the Black Maria (1892–93) that they used as their film studio, the world’s first. Dickson set this purpose-built studio on tracks so that it could be moved into optimal sunlight and outfitted it with a roof made of panels that could be raised to allow in light, which is how they illuminated the action featured in Blacksmithing Scene. Here Edison filmmakers shot many of the hundreds of films that the company released between 1893 and 1918, its final year of active production.

The world’s first motion-picture camera, developed in 1890 by American inventor Thomas Alva Edison and his assistant and protégé, William K. L. Dickson. It was electrically powered and worked with celluloid film, which was advanced through the camera via a system of sprockets.

The world’s first film studio, developed in 1892–93 by American inventor Thomas Alva Edison and his assistant and protégé, William K. L. Dickson. Comprised of an armature of wooden planks covered with tar paper, the structure was set on tracks so that it could be moved into optimal sunlight and outfitted with a roof made of panels that could be raised or lowered to control the amount of light coming in.

A person who directs or produces movies.

1. A series of moving images, especially those recorded on film and projected onto a screen or other surface (noun); 2. A sheet or roll of a flexible transparent material coated with an emulsion sensitive to light and used to capture an image for a photograph or film (noun); 3. To record on film or video using a movie camera (verb).

A cabinet-like apparatus, forerunner of the motion-picture film projector, developed in 1891 by American inventor Thomas Alva Edison and his assistant and protégé, William K. L. Dickson. When a nickel was dropped into its slot, celluloid film (recorded in the Kinetograph) would roll through the Kinetoscope, passing between a lens and an electric light bulb (another of Edison’s inventions). A peephole at the top of the Kinetoscope allowed people to view moving pictures as the celluloid rolled past.