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19th Century Timeline of Film History

The timeline above showcases some of the most important inventions, developments, and films in the creation of motion pictures in the 19th Century.

You can use your mouse or finger to scroll across time. Click or tap on an event to read about it. Most events come with a video and link to help you learn even more about the early days of cinema.

The Early Days

The timeline begins with the first commercial thaumatrope. A thaumatrope is a spinning two-sided disc with strings attached to the sides. If you pulled the strings, the disc would flip so rapidly that you would see a single image rather than two images.

It’s not what most of us would call a “film” or a “movie.” But the technology developed from here. Pioneers like Eadweard Muybridge, Louis LePrince, Thomas Edison, Étienne-Jules Marey, Alice Guy, the Lumière Brothers, Georges Méliès, and others borrowed from and inspired each other. 

In the 1880s and 1890s, the movies rapidly developed from experiments and brief “actualities” to a new fantastic art form, full of drama, horror, romance, and pathos. How it got there is a story of murder, love, and collaborative genius. This timeline can help weave those moments together into a whole.

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