From our archives, 100 years ago
The Orpheum Theater in Spokane installed Thomas Edison’s latest “marvel”: a kinetophone, or “talking picture” machine.
The Orpheum’s owner predicted it would be “the greatest theatrical sensation in the history of the stage.”
Edison himself, not one to be humble, called the kinetophone a “revolutionary” development.
“Now that the projection of voice and motion is perfect, I promise you a series of talking pictures that will exceed in permanent interest anything that the playhouse is known,” said Edison from his laboratory in West Orange, N.J. “The kinetophone will be demanded by the people in every city and town of this country and the world, and I want to have it installed everywhere. It has been a labor of love with me for a generation.”
However, it was actually just a phonograph cylinder synchronized with a silent movie – and not very well synchronized. When the voices drifted out of sync, an operator used a fishing line to try to adjust the speed of the phonograph. Also, the kinetophone could not be used for an entire movie, just brief portions. A film of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” had only seven minutes of sound.
Audiences soon grew tired of the crude kinetophone sound. The world had to wait until 1927 for “talkies” to be perfected.