A Philadelphia Inventor Was Among the First to Demonstrate Moving Images That Became the Precursor to Movies

The first demonstration of a moving image, shown by Henry Heyl in 1870.
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Henry Heyl was an invention who was a pioneer of the moving image. This was one of the first.

In 1870, Philadelphia inventor Henry Heyl displayed among the first demonstrations of a projected moving picture, writes Avi Wolfman-Arent for Billy Penn at WHYY.

He invented a device he called the “phasmatrope,” and demonstrated it at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia in front of about 1,500 individuals.

The device was a disc loaded with sequential glass slides, and when spun in front of a lantern projector, it could show a moving image onto a screen. 

It was controlled by a crank, which allowed the operator to sync the pace of the images to live sound.

The local Evening Public Ledger newspaper referred to Heyl as the “originator of motion pictures.”

He, however, never patented the invention.

As other inventors like Thomas Edison began introducing equipment that could capture and play back moving images, cinema as we know it in more modern times, began to take off.

Heyl, however, patented other inventions.

Namely, he secured the U.S. patent for the first modern stapler, invented the folding paper box, and devised a tool to help mechanize bookbinding. 

He also contributed to the development of paper milk containers and paper cups. 

Heyl lived more than 50 years of his life in Philadelphia, before passing away in 1919. 

Read more about Henry Heyl’s legacy in Billy Penn at WHYY.


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