Nickelodeon’s were the original movie theaters. Many had gaudy facades but, inside, they were dark dank rooms with wooden benches to watch short movies. Movies ran on a reel and people could watch as long as they wanted, or as long as they could stand the oftentimes filthy interiors. Possibly because Nickelodeon theaters are successors to Edison’s coin-operated kinetoscopes, the term is often confused for a type of coin-operated machine.


Colonel William Austin coined the term for a museum. However, Harry David and John Harris popularized the term for their chain of movie theaters. They opened the first Nickelodeon movie theater in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1905. For five cents, a nickel, patrons could enter and watch movies as long as they pleased.

Despite the stark interior, Nickelodeon’s were wildly popular. Early Nickelodeon’s tended to show the same films over-and-over, relying on new people each week.

However, in the early 1900s movie distribution changed. Filmmakers sold films to distributors who rented them to Nickelodeon’s. Therefore, the films changed from week-to-week attracting the same audience to different movies. By 1910, over one-fourth of all Americans went to Nickelodeon movie theaters weekly.

Filmmaking Matures

As time went on, filmmakers found it more profitable to make longer films. Nickelodeon’s also preferred longer films because there was less work splicing together or changing the shorter ones. Movies morphed from reality-based films, that required bringing a camera to a place, to fiction films, that allowed movies to be filmed on sets. Longer fiction films also offered artistic talent, similar to plays.

As films became longer and more professionally produced, the wooden bench Nickelodeon’s became less attractive. In 1913 a new type of theater opened in New York City featuring plush seats, air conditioning, and a beautiful interior, the Palace Theater. Copycat theaters sprung-up around the US. Originally, the theater was dual-use, for both Vaudeville, plays, and movies. But as time went on, they eventually showed only longer, high-quality films. The higher quality Palace theaters eclipsed and eventually shuttered the Nickelodeon’s.

Marine Chronometer

This device, an accurate clock that works on ships, allows sailors to much more accurately navigate. Before this innovation, sailors had to guess, and it was common for ships to miss their destination on a journey by hundreds of miles. This device reduced the risk and cost of long journeys by ship, lowering the cost of long-distance trade. Modern GPS also relies on extremely accurate timers.


Sun and star positioning allowed ships to determine latitude with reasonable accuracy but not longitude. Before the marine chronometer, the only way to determine longitude required a highly accurate clock. Except that the only clicks in existence relied on pendulums, which do not work at sea. Due to this, sailors often veered off course by a long distance. It was not unheard of to sail to the wrong country, which might be at war with a ships intended destination.

In one notable accident, the Scilly Naval Disaster of 1707, England lost four ships and 1,400-2,000 men after a longitude navigation error. After that, the English parliament floated a £20,000 prize (an enormous amount of money) to anybody who could make an accurate clock that worked at sea.

Pushback From Professionals

Harrison, a self-educated clockmaker, built a spring-loaded clock that enabled sailors to accurately determine the longitude making navigation more precise and safer. Harrison built four versions, H1-H5[1], over 46 years. Harrison’s clock was so accurate and reliable that even the earliest prototype continues working today:

Despite that Harrison’s clock repeatedly passed tests, aristocratic judges rejected it. The judges were members of an exclusive click making society, Worshipful Company of Clockmakers. As a self-taught inventor, Harrison did not belong and they argued his clock failed to meet their criteria. Modern engineers have determined these rejections were in bad-faith: that Harrison’s clock worked.

Capt. James Cook attributed his ability to circumnavigate the globe to Harrison’s H4 clock. Despite this, the clockmaking judge panel refused to agree the clock was good enough. Eventually, a portion of the prize was paid as outraged legislators and King George III intervened, but Harrison was never awarded the entire prize.

[1] H1-H3 were large spring clocks; pendulum style clocks that used springs. H4-5 were timepieces.