Today was a significant day in history for film. It was, perhaps, the most significant. It was the day when the first ever commercial movie screening ocurred, at the Grand Cafe in Paris.
The film shown was a Lumiere picture. Auguste and Louis Lumiere were two French brothers who invented the Cinematographe, a camera-projector. The Cinematographe was debuted to the public in March of 1895, when they showed a very short piece of film depicting people exiting the Lumiere factory. On December 28 of the same year, the Lumieres charged admission to see a sequence of similar short films. It was the first time anyone ever had to pay to see a movie.
Moving pictures had been around since the early 1830’s. During that time, a Belgian named Joseph Plateau and an Austrian man named Simon Stampfer both independently came up with the same invention – the phenakistoscope. Phenakistoscope users viewed a series of images through a spinning disc with holes in it, creating the impression of motion. It was a first step towards the technology that would make true motion picture possible.
In 1890, Thomas Edison took the technological baton and crossed the finish line with it. He and William Dickson, his assistant, invented the Kinetograph, considered the first ever motion-picture camera. A year later, Edison invented something called the Kinetoscope, a device that allowed a person to view a film strip moving across a backlight through a peephole. Moving pictures were born.
Antoine Lumiere, father to the Lumiere brothers, saw a Kinetoscope demonstration in 1894. He was moved, but told his sons in confidence that they could invent something superior. Auguste and Louis were, at the time, running a factory in Lyon that produced photographic plates. In 1895, Louis patented the Cinematographe, a dual-purpose device that was both a camera and a projector. Unlike the Kinetoscope, which was only usable by one individual at a time, the Cinematographe allowed film to be projected for a larger audience.
The Lumieres opened the first public movie houses, called then (and now) “cinemas,” in 1896. They dispatched crews of Cinematographe-wielding filmmakers around the world to capture film for the cinemas. It was a huge success, and public film houses spread to America. The first American cinema, called the Vitascope Hall, opened in 1896 in New Orleans. Thirteen years later, the New York Times would publish its first film review, describing the D.W. Griffith film Pippa Passes. The first ever Hollywood studio began operations in 1914, and the rest is history.
The Lumieres were instrumental not only in the development and popularization of moving picture technology, they were also important figures in still photography. They invented the Autochrome plate in 1907. Autochrome remained the dominant color photography process until the 1930’s.