Vitascope was an early film projector first demonstrated in 1895 by Charles Francis Jenkins and Thomas Armat. They had made modifications to Jenkins patented "Phantoscope", which cast images via film & electric light onto a wall or screen. With the original Phantoscope and before he partnered with Armat, Jenkins displayed the earliest documented projection of a filmed motion picture in June 1894 in Richmond, Indiana.
Armat independently sold the Phantoscope to The Kinetoscope Company. The company realized that their Kinetoscope would soon be a thing of the past with the rapidly advancing proliferation of early cinematic engineering. They were very interested in this newest magic lantern and approached Thomas Edison to finance the manufacture of the apparatus.
Vitascope was also used briefly as a trademark by Warner Brothers in 1930 for a widescreen process used for films such as Song of the Flame. Warner was trying to compete with other widescreen processes such as Magnascope, Widevision, Natural Vision (no relation to the later 3-D film process), and Fox Grandeur.
Edison was slow to develop a projection system at this time, since the single-user Kinetoscopes were very profitable. However, films projected for large audiences could generate more profits since fewer machines were needed in proportion to the number of viewers. Thus, others sought to develop their own projection systems.
One inventor who led the way was Charles Francis Jenkins who created the Phantoscope. Jenkins was behind the earliest documented projection of a motion picture before an audience. Using film and electric light, the film of a vaudeville dancer was projected in Richmond, Indiana on June 6, 1894. Woodville Latham, with his sons, created the Eidoloscope projector which was presented publicly in April 1895. Dickson apparently advised the Lathams on their machine, offering technical knowledge, a situation which led to Dickson leaving Edison's employment on April 2, 1895.
Dickson formed the American Mutoscope Company in December 1895 with partners Herman Casler, Henry Norton Marvin and Elias Koopman. The company, which eventually became the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, soon became a major competitor to the Edison Company.
During the same period, C. Francis Jenkins and Thomas Armat modified Jenkins' patented Phantoscope. It was publicly demonstrated in Atlanta in the Autumn of 1895 at the Cotton States Exposition. The two soon parted ways, each claiming credit for the invention.
Armat showed the Phantoscope to Raff and Gammon, owners of the Kinetoscope Company, who recognized its profit potential in the face of declining kinetoscope business. They negotiated with Armat to purchase rights to the Phantoscope and approached Edison for his approval. The Edison Manufacturing Company agreed to manufacture the machine and to produce films for it, but on the condition it be advertised as a new Edison invention named the Vitascope.
The Vitascope's first theatrical exhibition was on April 23, 1896, at Koster and Bial's Music Hall in New York City. Other competitors soon displayed their own projection systems in American theaters, including the re-engineered Eidoloscope, which copied Vitascope innovations; the Lumière Cinématographe, which had already debuted in Europe in 1895; Birt Acres' Kineopticon; and the Biograph which was marketed by the American Mutoscope Company. The Vitascope, along with many of the competing projectors, became a popular attraction in variety and vaudeville theaters in cities across the US. Motion pictures soon became starring attractions on the vaudeville bill. Exhibitors could exhibit films from the Edison inventory.
The Edison Company developed its own projector known as the Projectoscope or Projecting Kinetoscope in November 1896, and abandoned marketing the Vitascope.