Below is a timeline for every notable event in the history of movies in the home (with more being added). It should be noted that this website uses the term, “Home Video,” in two different ways. Firstly, it uses it as an umbrella term for the viewing of movies in the home, physical or otherwise. Secondly, its also the label given to the era in time where movies are being released on physical video formats.
A device which used light and lenses to project images onto walls. These images were usually painted onto glass slides, which were then placed between the light source and lens. The first magic lantern is believed to have been invented by Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens.
First animation device to give the illusion of motion. When the disk is quickly spun on a vertical handle, the person holding it could look through the slots and see an animated figure reflected onto a mirror.
Expanded on the phenakistoscope by placing each phase of motion onto the inside walls of a cylinder with slots, eliminating the need for a mirror mounted to a wall. The use of a cylinder was first suggested by Simon Stampfer, but was first demonstrated by William Horner in 1834.
Inventor Charles-Émile improved on the zoetrope by placing mirrors in the center of the cylinder, removing the need to view the animation through the slots. The person using the device would simply look into the cylinder from above to see the desired effect reflected onto the mirrors inside. A projected version is invented but never makes it to market.
Improves upon previous attempts to create a projecting Phenakistiscope. Invented by Eadweard Muybridge to project animated plants and animals from painted glass disks.
May 9th, 1893
Edison gives the first public demonstration of the Kinetoscope at the Brooklyn Institute for Arts and Sciences. It is a “pay per view” device which uses a peephole and a strip of backlit 35mm film.
April 14th, 1894
The first kinetoscope parlor opens in New York City, at 1155 Broadway, on the corner of 27th Street. It is often considered by many as the first movie house or by some extension, an early ancestor to the video rental store.
Projecting version of the Kinetoscope which used 35mm film, intended for “small auditorium” use. Some advertisements market the device for home use. Edison continued to advertise the machine until 1912.
The parlor kinetoscope is an early attempt to make a home version of Edison’s Kinetoscope. These were tabletop devices that used paper strips of images and a hand crank to create the motion picture. Most were manufactured by the American Parlor Kinetoscope Company out of Washington, DC.
1897 (Film Collecting, McKee, p. 19)
Developed and sold by W. Watson & Sons out of London, the Motorgraph is among the very first magic lantern attachments that promised motion picture projection. Across one ad reads, “Animated Photographs at Home.” Because these early toy projectors used cellulose Nitrate 35 mm film, they were considered too dangerous by many for the home.
May 4th, 1897 (Boston Evening Transcript, 1897/05/04, p. 12)
At a Parisian charity event, a projectionist’s equipment catches fire, killing 126 attendees of mostly aristocratic women. The news of the event spreads worldwide, telling the dangers of using motion picture equipment. Events like these stall larger manufacturers from producing home machines, while smaller companies would move ahead in producing dangerous toy projectors.
A 17.5mm portable camera and projector in one intended for amateurs. Developed by Birt Acres.
The Kinora was a hand cranked tabletop viewer sold to the home market. Instead of film, it flipped through a spool of photographic cards, much like a flipbook or a mutoscope. Originally invented by the Lumiere brothers in 1895, they sold their patent to Gaumont, who first released the device with 100 different reels in 1900.
The Vitak was sold through the William Wardell’s mail order catalog. Likely the first toy projector made in the United States. Sold for $2.
1902 (Film History, Winter 1988, p. 37)
The Homograph is manufactured by the James Coghlan Company of Union Square, NY. It uses 35 mm and sold for only $5.
1904 (Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, McKeown, p. 497)
The Ikonograph is a 17.5 mm toy projector sold by the Ikonograph Commercial Company of Manhattan. Invented by film promotor and inventor, Enoch Rector, it’s marketed as being the first projector that could be played backwards.
November 21st, 1910 (Westminster Gazette, 1911/01/16, p. 12)
The first non-combustible film stock, also known as safety film, becomes available to the public. It is from the company, Boroid LTD, out of London. It uses acetate as a film base rather than the more common and highly flammable nitrate base. Although Eastman Kodak and Pathe had already developed their versions of safety film, it had been rejected by the industry for being too brittle. Theirs will be reintroduce two years later for use with home projectors.
A French 28mm home projector which used safety (non-combustible) film. Developed by Pathé-Frères, it’s first patented in 1911, sold to the public in 1912. Printed films are made available for rent or purchase through catalogs.
March 27th, 1912 (New York Times, 1912/03/28, p. 11)
The first American projector made for the home market is demonstrated by Edison. It uses a 22mm film stock. Printed films are made available for purchase through authorized outlets.
William Beech Cook establishes Pathescope Company of America to sell surplus Pathe KOK projectors and printed 28mm films (called Pathescopes) in the U.S.