Eggbeater Mutoscope (Prototype), 2010
eggbeater, wood, paper, light, gears, motor, wires, rug

This project charts a journey in invention. Fascinated by the pre-cinema device called the Mutoscope (a coin-activated, hand-driven parlor amusement that worked on the "flip book" principle), I set out to make one. Click through the images below to read a story I wrote when I discovered it was invented in my city of Syracuse, New York.

During my research, I learned that Thomas Edison had sued the Mutoscope inventors because their device was a threat to his kinetoscope, which operated similarly but used a fixed-speed motor to move the images at a constant rate. Edison lost the suit, and good for that, because he was a big bully in the inventor world and, to me, the enemy. But back to my project. I wanted to make a Mutoscope, and so I did. Here it is early on, with just the right side animation figured out, and the device housed in a foam-core mock-up of the final display (click the arrow in the middle of the image to play the video).

Yet I was worried that it might get damaged over time and with frequent use. I thought of attaching a dimmer switch to the wall that was wired to the Mutoscope, allowing one to adjust the speed without touching the device directly. This meant also attaching a variable-speed motor and gears, and building an electrical circuit. No problem--I was taking a class on electronics for art objects, so this would be a good project.

There was a lot to figure out, so I decided to first try making a motor-driven device, and then I'd tackle the "variable-speed" part. But that process alone took a couple months and somewhere in the mess of wires and do-hickeys, I lost sight of my goal. In the end, there was no dimmer switch, no variable speed motor. I had, however, attached a gear system and motor, and built an electrical circuit that was pretty clever: when the viewer stood on a rug in front of the device, it turned on, as did a light in the ceiling of the display. I proudly exhibited my device, only to realize later that it wasn't really a Mutoscope, but a kinetoscope.