April 13, 1913: “Talkies” come to Duluth

On this day in Duluth in 1913, the Orpheum Theatre became the first theatre in town to screen an “Edison talking picture.” At the time, there were no movies or “motion pictures” as Edison preferred—just six reels of footage “revealing singers, musical instruments, breaking of dishes, barking of dogs, and a variety of other action [including] scenes from plays and parts of grand opera and musical comedy.” Edison said of his invention, “The greatest thing of all is that the device makes it possible to give a play by the best dramatist and by the best players for 5 cents.” Three days later the Duluth News Tribune announced that “Edison’s talking motion pictures have been filling the house every night this week, and nothing but praise is heard of Edison’s latest invention.” The invention was an updated version of his 1895 Kinetophones, essentially a cabinet one peered inside to watch film while a record played, often out of synchronization. The 1913 version displayed the pictures on a screen while sound played on a celluloid cylinder; the projector and phonograph were synced up with a cable-and-pulley system. By 1915 Edison had abandoned this idea, partly because proper synchronization of sound and picture was difficult to maintain, especially when union rules of the day stipulated that only union projectionists could screen the films, and few of them were trained on the device. The world would have to wait until 1927’s The Jazz Singer—sound provided by Vitaphone—before it would see a full-length motion picture with properly synchronized sound.