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A Sneeze of Historic Proportions

You may sneeze many times a day, especially at this time of year, when trees and flowers begin to bloom. You have probably never thought of a sneeze as being an important part of American history, but one man’s particular sneeze is historic.

“Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze” “The Godfather” motion picture poster, 1972

In the late 1880s, American inventor Thomas Alva Edison predicted that he would invent a new technology to record motion. He gave his assistant William Kennedy Laurie Dickson the task of developing a device to record moving images and another device to play them back. The recorder or camera became known as a kinetograph and the player as the kinetoscope.

After commercial motion picture film stock was invented and produced by Eastman Kodak, the kinetograph-kinetoscope project advanced rapidly and became the foundation for the commercial development of movies. Dickson made a short film titled "Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze" to demonstrate the invention. The film captures Edison employee Fred Ott sneezing. It was received in the U.S. Copyright Office on Jan. 9, 1894, as a copyright deposit. “Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze” is the earliest extant copyrighted motion picture in the Library of Congress collections. "The Life of Thomas A. Edison," a special presentation, documents the genius of Edison’s inventions as well as his genius in marketing them.

Motion pictures were originally registered in the Copyright Office as a series of photographs because it was not until Aug. 24, 1912, that Congress added motion pictures to classes of works protected by copyright. These films on paper are part of the Paper Print Film Collection of the Library. Since then films themselves have been registered for copyright.

In 1870, copyright functions for the nation were centralized in the Library of Congress under the direction of then Librarian of Congress Ainsworth Rand Spofford. The Copyright Office became a separate department of the Library of Congress in 1897, and Thorvald Solberg was appointed the first Register of Copyrights.

For information on the Copyright Office and registering creative works, go to the Copyright Home Page.

A. W.K.L. Dickson, “Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze,” Edison Manufacturing Co., 1894. Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division. Call No.: LC 26A (paper pos)

B. “The Godfather” motion picture poster, 1972, Paramount Pictures Corp. Prints and Photographs Division. Call No.: POS - MOT. PIC. - 1972 .G74, no. 1 (C size), Reproduction No.: LC-USZC4-5194 (color film copy transparency)

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