William Kennedy Dickson

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William Kennedy Laurie Dickson (3 August 1860 – 28 September 1935) was a French-born Anglo-Scots inventor who devised an early motion picture camera under the employ of Thomas Edison (post-dating the work of Louis Le Prince).[1][2]



Dickson was born on 4 August 1860 in Le Minihic-sur-Rance, Brittany, France. His mother was Elizabeth Kennedy-Laurie (1823?–1879) who may have been born in the Virginia[3] and was of Scottish descent. His father was James Waite Dickson, a Scottish artist, astronomer and linguist. James claimed direct lineage from the painter Hogarth, and from Judge John Waite, the man who sentenced King Charles I to death. A gifted musician, his mother, Elizabeth Kennedy-Laurie Dickson, was related to the Lauries of Maxwellton (immortalised in the ballad Annie Laurie) and connected with the Duke of Atholl and the Royal Stuarts.

Film innovator

In 1879 Dickson, his mother, and two sisters moved from Britain to Virginia[4]. In 1888, American inventor and entrepreneur Thomas Alva Edison conceived of a device that would do "for the Eye what the phonograph does for the Ear". In October, Edison filed a preliminary claim, known as a caveat, with the U.S. Patent Office outlining his plans for the device. In March 1889, a second caveat was filed, in which the proposed motion picture device was given a name, the Kinetoscope. Dickson, then the Edison company's official photographer, was assigned to turn the concept into a reality.

Dickson invented the first practical celluloid film for this application and decided on 35 mm for the size, a standard still used.

Dickson and his team at the Edison lab then worked on the development of the Kinetoscope for several years. The first working protoype was unveiled in May 1891 and the design of system was essentially finalized by the fall of 1892. The completed version of the Kinetoscope was officially unveiled at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences on 9 May 1893. Not technically a projector system, it was a peep show machine showing a continuous loop of the film Dickson invented, lit by an Edison light source, viewed individually through the window of a cabinet housing its components. The Kinetoscope introduced the basic approach that would become the standard for all cinematic projection before the advent of video.[5]

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