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Home /History / Who Invented the Film Reel?

Who Invented the Film Reel?

By Dillon Wallace

It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than a century since the birth of film. We’ve witnessed the industry progress from blurry black and white, flip-book-like movement to crystal clear, ultra high definition digital footage.

It all begs the question of what’s next?
But while we play the future guessing game, one thing we do know is film’s history. So let’s take it back to the late 1800s to find out a little more about the birth of the motion picture and film reels. After all, the rest is history as they say.


Louis Le Prince and the first motion picture

The first movie projector was invented by British photographer, Eadweard Muybridge in 1879. His projector, aka the Zoopraxiscope, projected images from rotating a glass disk in rapid succession to give the impression of motion. So, it wasn’t technically filmed footage.

But in 1888, a Frenchman by the name Louis Le Prince took out a patent for a 16-lens device while working in Leeds. This device combined a motion picture camera with a projector to create a more sophisticated movie projector. Using his camera and projector, Le Prince filmed the first ever motion picture, the Roundhay Garden Scene. Riveting, I’m sure.

And while the movie projector and camera would go on to quickly become a staple of film’s history, with tons of iterations, upgrades and amazing technological breakthroughs – except for maybe 3D (that one just can’t seem to stick) –  Le Prince would go on to have his name cemented in film’s humble beginnings.

The beginning of the film reel

The original roll of film was designed to hold about 1,000 feet of 35mm film (pretty impressive, especially by back-then standards). However, this reel would only run about 10 minutes tops, so most early motion pictures weren’t too lengthy … unless you wanted to port a cargo full of additional reels to cinemas. 

In fact, duration became a point of contention in film’s infancy. In the early 1900s, a trust of major motion picture producers and distributors attempted to monopolize the industry from 1909-1912 by limiting the length of films to one or two reels. 


Because they claimed that viewing audiences wouldn’t be capable of appreciating films of greater length. Fast forward to today and the majority of movies are clocking in at over two hours a pop. Not to mention the time suck of binge watching … we’re all guilty here.

Needless to say, after 1912 this ridiculous claim ceased as multiple-reel films started to achieve widespread popularity. And multiple reel pictures would go on to be called feature films. If you think of this in terms of sheer weight with each reel of film weighing about 5 lbs., then your average feature film (with all its multiple reels) weighed around 60 lbs.

Oh, and let’s not forget that back in the day, movies were captured on film and then literally flown all over to cinemas for viewing. What a world we live in today where we can get the latest movies and TV shows streamed straight to our TVs, so we never even have to leave the comfort of our couch. Back in the early 1900s, being a couch potato was unfathomable. And “Netflix and chill” would have probably been considered an actual net that you flicked and it was cold. Who knows?!

A lot has changed in film’s century plus evolution, and with digital being the basis of how we film and watch movies, it only makes sense that you should convert your old analog tapes to digital gold. Digitize your memories today and play your role in film history!

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