When people think of film history and innovation, Los Angeles is the first place that springs to mind. Hollywood is the heart and soul of the American film industry and has been for a number of years. London, Paris, Berlin, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Rome have also enjoyed a long history of film production for various foreign markets.
One place that people are unlikely to point to when asked about film history? Richmond, Indiana. Yet in 1894, that is exactly where the first reeled film with electric light was projected in front of an audience.
Inventor and early cinema pioneer Charles Francis Jenkins was born in Ohio in 1867 but spent the bulk of his formative years in Richmond. He left to work as a stenographer in DC in 1890, but quit his job soon after to focus on creating his “motion picture projecting box”.
On June 6th, 1894, he returned home and invited friends and family to gather at his cousin’s jewelry store, where he screened a motion picture of a vaudeville dancer doing a butterfly dance. This marked both the first time a reeled film was projected in front of an audience with electric light and the first motion picture with color.
Back in Washington, Charles Francis Jenkins met Thomas Armat while both were studying at the Bliss Electrical School. Armat provided financial backing and together the two men created the Phantoscope, which was an improvised version of the projector Jenkins had been using previously.
In 1895, the partners publicly debuted their new invention at the Cotton States Exposition in Atlanta. The projector was well received, but the partnership dissolved following a dispute over ownership.
Jenkins claimed he was the sole inventor of the Phantoscope, while Armat wanted credit. Eventually, after a dispute that involved Armat stealing the only working Phantoscope from Jenkins’ home and selling it to a German theatre, the patent for the current version of the Phantoscope was given to both men.