Outbreak of the war
End of the war

Projection shows – precursors of the cinema

Even before the cinematograph conquered the world, showmen presented colourful and spectacular pictures to the public. Attracted by the fascinating moving pictures, audiences immersed themselves in this new sensory experience and forerunner of the visual cinema.

In the pre-cinematographic era, travelling showmen went from place to place, fair to fair, offering projections in the form of cinema obscura, magic lanterns, fantasy peepshows, strange zoetropes and breath-taking panoramas. Clever picture machines deceived the human eye to produce unusual visual impressions. With the ‘laterna magica’, which had already been shown in 1665 in Lyon, Paris, Copenhagen and Rome, pictures and photographs could be enlarged and projected by means of a light beam and convex mirror. Panoramas offered audiences access to an artificially created world. These huge pictures were shown in special buildings, surrounding the viewer in a 360° circle. The first panorama was exhibited in Vienna in 1801 showing a picture of London. The Mutoscope presented a series of cards rotated on a disc. The automated version of this ‘electric high-speed viewer’ was soon to be found in railway stations and entertainment establishments. They existed in Vienna from 1890.

The most popular pictorial medium around 1900 was the Kaiserpanorama, a round wooden construction, usually with twenty-five viewing stations. These collective peepshows were to be found in practically all major cities in the Monarchy. The viewer would look at a picture for around 30 seconds, and then there would be a ringing sound and the photo carousel would rotate to the next picture. The hand-coloured stereoscopic pictures series from Austria and the rest of the world would be changed every week. Apart from travel pictures and cityscapes, the Kaiserpanorama also had pictures of important events of the time. With its weekly changing programme and pictures, it was an early forerunner of the newsreel and a direct precursor of the cinema. The Vienna Kaiserpanorama opened on Stubenring in 1885 and existed there for almost seventy years.

Translation: Nick Somers


Fölsch, Wiebke K.: Buch Film Kinetiks. Zur Vor- und Frühgeschichte von Daumenkino, Mutoskop & Co, Berlin 2011

Kieninger, Ernst/Rauschgatt, Doris: Die Mobilisierung des Blicks. Eine Ausstellung zur Vor- und Frühgeschichte des Kinos, Wien 1995

Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    On the eve of war

    The last decade of the nineteenth century and the first of the twentieth were a time of modernisation, mechanisation and speed. In 1910, Vienna, capital of the Habsburg empire, had 2.1 million inhabitants and had grown to become an international metropolis. New technologies changed working life and leisure. Railways increased mobility, as did the bicycle, motor vehicle and aeroplane. How did this development manifest itself and what other trends emerged in the last years before the outbreak of the First World War?

Persons, Objects & Events

  • Object


    All Quiet on the Western Front was released in 1930. It was the film of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel of the same name about the experiences of a soldier during the First World War. Remarque’s book and the film adaptation are classic anti-war statements. Alongside the patriotic, glorified heroic epics and “authentic” documentation of service for the fatherland, this was just one way in which the First World War was portrayed in literature and films – a medium that had come into being only twenty years before the outbreak of war.