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IndustryMotion pictures
HeadquartersNew York, United States

Kinemacolor was the first successful colour motion picture process, used commercially from 1908 to 1914. It was invented by George Albert Smith in 1906. He was influenced by the work of William Norman Lascelles Davidson and, more directly, Edward Raymond Turner.[1] It was launched by Charles Urban's Urban Trading Co. of London in 1908. From 1909 on, the process was known and trademarked as Kinemacolor. It was a two-colour additive colour process, photographing and projecting a black-and-white film behind alternating red and green filters.


"How to Make and Operate Moving Pictures" published by Funk & Wagnalls in 1917 notes the following:

Of the many attempts to produce cinematograph pictures... the greatest amount of attention so far has been attracted by a system invented by George Albert Smith, and commercially developed by Charles Urban under the name of "Kinemacolor." In this system (to quote from Cassell's Cyclopædia of Photography, edited by the editor of this present book), only two colour filters are used in taking the negatives and only two in projecting the positives. The camera resembles the ordinary cinematographic camera except that it runs at twice the speed, taking thirty-two images per second instead of sixteen, and it is fitted with a rotating colour filter in addition to the ordinary shutter. This filter is an aluminium skeleton wheel... having four segments, two open ones, G and H; one filled in with red-dyed gelatine, E F; and the fourth containing green-dyed gelatine, A B. The camera is so geared that exposures are made alternately through the red gelatine and the green gelatine. Panchromatic film is used, and the negative is printed from in the ordinary way, and it will be understood that there is no colour in the film itself.[2]


With Our King and Queen Through India, extract

The first motion picture exhibited in Kinemacolor was an eight-minute short filmed in Brighton titled A Visit to the Seaside, which was trade shown in September 1908. On 26 February 1909, the general public first saw Kinemacolor in a programme of twenty-one short films shown at the Palace Theatre in London. The process was first seen in the United States on 11 December 1909, at an exhibition staged by Smith and Urban at Madison Square Garden in New York City.[3]

In 1911, Kinemacolor released the first dramatic film made in the process, Checkmated. The company then produced the documentary films With Our King and Queen Through India (also known as The Durbar at Delhi, 1912), and the notable recovery of £750,000 worth of gold and silver bullion from the wreck of P&O's SS Oceana in the Strait of Dover (1912).[4] With Our King and Queen Through India and the dramas The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1914), and Little Lord Fauntleroy (1914) were the first three feature films made in colour. These latter two features were also among the last films released by Kinemacolor.

Success and decline[edit]

Kinemacolor enjoyed the most commercial success in the UK where, between 1909 and 1918, it was shown at more than 250 entertainment venues. The system was made available to exhibitors either by licence or from 1913 through a series of touring companies. Although in most cases the system stayed at licensed venues for only a few months there were instances where it remained at a hall for up to two years.[5] 54 dramatic films were produced. Four dramatic short films were also produced by Kinemacolor in the United States in 1912 and 1913,[6] and one in Japan, Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura (1914).

However, the company was never a success, partly due to the expense of installing special Kinemacolor projectors in cinemas. Also, the process suffered from "fringeing" and "haloing" of the images, an unsolvable problem as long as Kinemacolor remained a successive frame process. Kinemacolor in the U.S. became most notable for its Hollywood studio being taken over by D. W. Griffith, who also took over Kinemacolor's uncompleted project to film Thomas Dixon's The Clansman, which eventually became The Birth of a Nation (1915). The 112 reels shot in Kinemacolor are lost, and the finished film is entirely in black-and-white.

The first (additive) version of Prizma Color, developed by William Van Doren Kelley in the U.S. from 1913 to 1917, used some of the same principles as Kinemacolor. In the UK, William Friese-Greene developed another additive colour system for film called Biocolour. However, in 1914 George Albert Smith sued Friese-Greene for infringing Kinemacolor's patents, slowing the development of Biocolour by Friese-Greene and his son Claude in the 1920s.

Predecessor process[edit]

In 2012, the National Media Museum in Bradford, England publicized its digital restoration of some very early three-colour alternating-filter test films, dated to 1902, made by Edward Raymond Turner. They are believed to be the earliest existing colour film footage. Turner's process, for which Charles Urban had provided financial backing, was adapted by Smith after Turner's sudden death in 1903, and this in turn became Kinemacolor.[7]

List of films made in Kinemacolor[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "William Norman Lascelles Davidson". Who's Who of Victorian Cinema. Retrieved 31 October 2007. ... Although his work was ultimately unsuccessful, it played its part in influencing the development of Kinemacolor, the world’s first successful natural colour motion picture system, invented by Davidson’s neighbour in the English south coast town of Southwick, near Brighton, G.A. Smith. ...
  2. ^ Widescreen Museum
  3. ^ urbanora (15 June 2008). "Colourful stories no. 11 – Kinemacolor in America « The Bioscope". Retrieved 26 February 2014.
  4. ^ Salvage Operations of S.S. Oceana Produced by the Natural Colour Kinematograph Co., Brighton at IMDb
  5. ^ Victoria Jackson, "The Distribution and Exhibition of Kinemacolor in the UK and the USA 1909–1916" (University of Bristol, 2011).
  6. ^ La Tosca (1912), Mission Bells (1913), The Rivals (1913), and The Scarlet Letter (1913).
  7. ^ "World's First Colour Film Discovered", BBC News (12 September 2012)
  8. ^ The New York Times, 2 April 1912: 24. Accessed via ProQuest ("Display Ad 28-No Title").
  9. ^ "An Expression | Details of the work | Japanese Animated Film Classics".

External links[edit]