Contact: Craig D'Ooge (202) 707-9189

June 18, 1997

History of Film Begins with a Sneeze at Library of Congress

Thomas Edison's "Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze" (1894), the earliest surviving copyright deposit of a motion picture, is the highlight of a selection of turn-of-the- century cinema on display in "American Treasures of the Library of Congress," an exhibition that opened May 1 at the Library in Washington. In addition to its many other distinctions, the Library of Congress contains the world's largest motion picture and television archive, assembled largely as a result of U.S. copyright law.

In the late 1880s, Edison predicted that he would invent a new technology to record motion and do "for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear." He set his most talented assistant, the young Englishman W.K.L. Dickson, to develop separate devices to record moving images (the "Kinetograph") and play them back (the "Kinetoscope"). Because copyright law did not recognize motion pictures as a separate copyrightable entity, Edison submitted the film as a series of 45 photographs on a single piece of paper. The original paper deposit is on display, as is the movie version, along with a selection of 13 other Edison studio films. Selections include "Annie Oakley" (1894), "Luis Martinetti--Contortionist" (1894), "Black Diamond Express-- Lehigh Valley Railroad" (1895) and the first motion-picture kiss, performed by John Rice and may Irwin (1896).

Additional historic movie footage presented in the exhibition includes turn-of-the-century views of landmarks in Washington and New York City and the 1901 Pan-American exposition in Buffalo. Also on view in the exhibition (courtesty of Turner Entertainment Co.) are "Top Hat" (RKO, 1935) and "Jammin' the Blues" (Warner Bros., 1944), motion pictures that are now included in the National Film Registry.

More than 200 items are on display in "American Treasures," the first permanent exhibition of the rarest and most significant items in the world's largest library. The exhibition opens with a television film clip of Groucho Marx being interviewed by Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show (NBC-TV, October 5, 1965). Groucho proudly displays a letter from the Librarian of Congress requesting that he deposit his papers in the Library and asks Johnny to read the letter aloud. Groucho states, "Having not finished public school, to find my letters perhaps laying next to the Gettysburg Address I thought was quite an incongruity, in addition to being extremely thrilling."

Other highlights include the earliest surviving book printed in North America, early baseball cards, the contents of Lincoln's pockets on the night of his assassination, Thomas Jefferson's drawing of a "maccaroni" machine he saw in Italy and Susan B. Anthony's personal copy of the transcript of the trial resulting from her arrest in 1872 for voting.

The exhibition, made possible by a grant of $1.1 million from the Xerox Foundation, is the centerpiece of a yearlong celebration marking the official reopening during its 100th anniversary of the Library's Thomas Jefferson Building, after a 12-year, $81.5 million restoration.

Exhibition hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Same-day, timed-entry tickets are available free from 10 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. at the Visitors Information Desk in the Jefferson Building at 10 First St. S.E. Advance tickets available only from Ticketmaster for $2.75 plus a $1.25 handling fee per order by calling (202) 432-SEAT in Washington, (410) 481-SEAT in Baltimore and (703) 573-SEAT in Virginia. Out of state callers may dial (800) 551-SEAT toll-free. For a recorded announcement about the exhibition, call (202) 707-3834. A selection of items from the exhibition is also available on the Internet at

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PR 97-104
ISSN 0731-3527

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