The Elektrischen Schnellseher or Electrotachyscope was an early motion picture system developed by chronophotographer Ottomar Anschütz between 1886 and 1894. He made at least seven different versions of the machine, including a projector, a peep-box viewer and several versions with illuminated glass photographs on a rotating wheel viewed on a 12.5 cm wide milk-glass screen by up to seven people at the same time.


Before working on chronophotography and motion pictures, Anschütz had already received much acclaim for his instantaneous pictures of flying storks in 1884.
In 1885, Anschütz made his first chronophotographs of horses, sponsored by the Prussian minister of Culture. Initially he used 12 cameras, later on 24. The quality of his pictures was generally regarded to be much higher than that of pioneer Eadweard Muybridge's chronophotographic series. He continued with studies of horses in motion at the Königlichen Militärreitinstitut in Hannover during 1886.
From the beginning, Anschütz wanted to reproduce the recorded actions and worked on devices to enable this. In 1886, he built a machine with a 1.5 meter wheel that had 24 9x13cm glass plate photographs attached to its circumference. The pictures were illuminated from behind by a fast succession of electric flashes from a synchronized Geissler tube, while the wheel was hand-cranked to rotate at a speed of circa 30 frames per second. Circa four spectators could watch the images on a 12.5 centimeter wide milk-glass screen in a wall in a small darkened room. Anschütz introduced the first successful model from 19 to 21 March 1887 at the Kultusministerium in Berlin, receiving much praise from invited colleagues, politicians, and scientists. From 16 July to 26 August 1887, the moving pictures were screened to circa 15.000 paying customers at Stadtbahnbogen 21 in the Ausstellungspark in Berlin. During the next few years, Anschütz demonstrated his electrical Schnellseher at many international exhibitions, fairs and conventions, visiting Wiesbaden, Frankfurt am Main and Dresden in 1887, Brussels and Florence in 1888 and Kassel, St. Petersburg, New York, Boston, Massachusetts and Philadelphia in 1889.
In 1888, Anschütz moved to a studio at Charlottenstr. 59 in Berlin, where frequent demonstrations of Schnellsehers took place to at least 1900.
Early January 1890, Anschütz presented a new type of chronophotography on the glass wheel Schnellseher to emperor Wilhelm I's family: "Sprechende Porträts". He introduced it publicly on 16 January 1890 at the Photographic Association in Berlin.
At the same 16 January 1890 presentation, Anschütz introduced a much smaller Schnellseher in a cabinet that could be mounted to a wall or otherwise placed at eye-height. By the end of the year he was negotiating with Siemens & Halske about the commercial manufacture of such machines. In 1891, Siemens & Halske started production of a coin-operated peep-hole Electrotachyscope, of which circa 152 copies were made. This version had 18 to 24 9x12 centimeter celluloid pictures in a 1.25 meter disc. It was demonstrated at the Elektrotechnischen Messe in Frankfurt on 16 May 1891 and exhibited there from 18 July to December, with over 17,000 spectators in the first 2.5 months. Models were demonstrated or installed in Berlin, Warschau, Amsterdam, Brussels und New York. The machine was licensed to Joe Livingston for Schwarz & Co in New York for the US since 9 September 1891, and to Edgar Cohen for worldwide exploitation since 19 October 1892. Electrotachyscope automats were installed in popular venues in New York, in Paris, in Boston, at The Crystal Palace in London, at the Berlin Zoo, and in more cities. Circa 34,000 people came to view the motion pictures in July and August 1892 at the Ausstellungspark in Berlin. The Elektrotachyscope was exhibited at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 as "Greatest Wonder of the World". These machines may have been mistaken for Edison's long-awaited Kinetoscopes that were planned to be installed at the fair, but never seemed to have arrived.
Before Siemens & Halske were involved, Anschütz had also developed an automated 65 centimeter cylindrical Schnellseher. It had six milk-glass screens, each showing a different scene. This Elektro-tachyscope was shown to paying spectators in Vienna in November 1890, and probably in Brussels in 1891.
In 1893, the Edison Manufacturing Company started the wide distribution of their long-awaited Kinetoscope, which had been in slow development since 1888. After initial experiments based on phonograph cylinders, they had shortly worked on a design based on the Schnellseher automat. Their main ambition was to enable longer motion pictures that ideally would reproduce opera performances in combination with the phonograph. The disc format had therefore been abandoned and experiments continued with celluloid film strips. The eventual coin-operated peep-box Kinetoscope automats did show relatively long scenes, but the company was unable to offer a combination with sound.
When the Electrical Wonder Company went under in 1893, it left Anschütz with a large debt with Siemens & Halske for large orders of Schnellsehers. Siemens & Halske started to commercially exhibit the remaining 52 copies themselves as an attempt to lift some of Anschutz' debt and helped him with the development of his new project that aimed to project motion pictures on a large screen.
On 6 November 1894, Anschütz patented a projector with two intermittently rotating large disks and continuous light. On 25, 29 and 30 November 1894, he introduced his new device with two 6 by 8 meter screening in the darkened Grand Auditorium of a Post Office Building in Berlin. From 22 February to 30 March 1895 commercial 1,5-hour program of 40 different scenes was screened for audiences of 300 people at the old Reichstag and received circa 4,000 visitors.
In 1895, other motion picture pioneers entered the market of motion pictures projected on large screens, including Max and Emil Skladanowsky with their Bioscop, and Auguste and Louis Lumière with their cinematograph. Their films were much longer than the Schnellseher picture loops and after 1895 Anschütz' career in motion pictures was diminished to the sales of home model Tachyscopes at his studio.

Demonstrations, exhibitions and screenings

Inventory of known presentations of Schnellsehers
1887-03-211887-03-23Kultusministerium demonstrationGerman Empire, Berlin, Unter dem Linden 4 wheelinvited photographers, scientists, politicians
1887-061887-09Ausstellungspark, daily commercial screeningsGerman Empire, Berlin, Stadtbahnbogen 21wheelpaying customers
1887-091887-09Naturforscherversammlung convention demonstrationGerman Empire, Wiesbadenwheelinvited scientists
1887-10-031887-10-03Verein zur Pflege der Photographie und verwandter Künste, two demonstrations + lectureGerman Empire, Frankfurt am Mainwheelinvited photographers and artists
1887-10-101887-10-15Polytechnische Gesellschaft, exhibitionGerman Empire, Frankfurt am Main wheel
18871887KunstgewerbehalleGerman Empire, Dresdenwheel
1888-021902?Anschütz studio, installation with regular presentations, salesGerman Empire, Berlin, Charlottenstrasse 59all variations?customers
1888-05?1888-10?Grand Concours International des Sciences et de l'Industrie, exhibitionBelgium, Brusselswheel
18881888photographic exhibitionItaly, Florencewheel
1889-081889-11?C. B. Richards & Son, regular screeningsUSA, New York, 3 East 14 Streetwheelphotographic supply store customers?
1889-08-151889-08-15?Königlichen Kriegsakademie, Anschütz exhibitionGerman Empire, Berlin, Dorotheenstraßewheel
18891889Hunting, Fishing and Sports ExhibitionGerman Empire, Kasselwheel
18891889Exhibition for Photo Dealers and ManufacturersUSA, Bostonwheel
18891889photography exhibitionRussian Empire, Saint Petersburgwheel
18891889?USA, Philadelphiawheel
1890-01-161890-01-16Photographic Association, introduction automat + "Sprechende Porträt"German Empire, Berlinautomat + wheel?
1890-011890-01private introduction of "Sprechende Porträt"German Empire, BerlinwheelWilhelm I's family
1890-04-211890-04-22k. k. Graphischer Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt, introductionAustria-Hungary, Vienna, Westbahnstrasse 25cylinderJosef Maria Eder and invited audience
1890-07-051890-11?G. v. d. Lippe, Elektro-Tachyskop, daily commercial exhibition Austria-Hungary, Vienna, Parkring 2cylinderpaying customers
18901890?German Empire, Weimarcylinder
1891-01?1891-01?Panorama International, daily demonstration Elektro-tachyskopHungary, Budapest, Andrässystraße I5cylinder?
1891-05-161891-05-16?Elektrotechnischen Messe, automat introductionGerman Empire, Frankfurt am Mainautomat
1891-07-181891-12Elektrotechnischen Messe, daily exhibition German Empire, Frankfurt am Main automat14,858 viewings at 10 pfennig until 25 August, over 17.000 by 31 August
1891-071891-07?international photography exhibitionBelgium, Brusselscylinder?
18911891photography exhibitionThe Netherlands, Amsterdamautomat
18911891Stanislaw Jurkowski exhibitionPoland, Warschawautomat
18911891several exhibitionsGerman Empire, Berlinautomat
1892-071892-08?Ausstellungspark, daily exhibitionGerman Empire, Berlin, Stadtbahnbogen 21automat16,618 paying customers in July, 17,271 in August
1892-061894-03The Crystal Palace, permanent installation of 2 to 12 machinesUK, Londonautomat
1892-071892-07?International Exposition of Photography, 2 machines installedFrance, Parisautomat
1892-08Eden Musee, 5 machines installedUS, New York, 23rd Streetautomat
1892-08Koster & Biall’s Music Hall, 1 machine installedUS, New York, 34th Street and Broadwayautomat
1892-08Am. Inst. Dur. Prdkts, 12 machines installedUS, New Yorkautomat
1892-082 machines installedUS, Bostonautomat
1892-12-221894-03Electric Wonder exhibition, 12 machinesUK, London, 425 The Strand automat
1892Hohenzollern GalleryGerman Empire, Berlinautomat
1892Zoologischer Garten, 4 machinesGerman Empire, Berlinautomat
1892Leipzig Garten, 2 machinesGerman Empire, Berlinautomat
18922 machinesGerman Empire, Hamburgautomat
1893-05-01?1893-10-30?World’s Columbian Exposition, "Greatest Wonder of the World" machinesUS, Chicago automat
1893-11-031893-11?Swedish Photographic ExhibitionSweden, Stockholmautomat?
1894-11-251894-11-30Postfuhramtes, projector introduction screeningsGerman Empire, Berlin, Artilleriestraße projector
1894-121894-11-25Avenida Palace Hotel, Exposicio Imperial, Karl Eisenlohr exhibitionPortugal, Lisbonautomat?
1895-02-221895-03-30Reichstag, commercial 1.5 hour screeningsGerman Empire, Berlin, Leipziger Straße 4projector300 paying spectators per show, 7,000 in March
1895-05-111895-10-13Italienischen Ausstellung, 30 machinesGerman Empire, Hamburgautomat56,645 viewings
1895-05-291895-06?Carl Henckel’s Concert Hall, screeningsGerman Empire, Hamburgprojector
1895-071895-08Exhibition, 12 machinesGerman Empire, Lübeckautomat10,152 viewings

Hardly any differentiation between the many variations of Schnellseher is clear from the available reports. For this table, if no precise information is available, devices exhibited before 1890 are assumed to be rotating wheel Electrotachyscopes, those exhibited in 1890 are assumed to be the cylinder machines and the "Talking Portraits" presentations are assumed to be from wheels. From 16 May 1891 onward, most devices are assumed to be the Siemens & Halske automat.

Tachyscope home models

Anschütz developed four types of a patented "Schnellseher" or "Tachyscope" that were improved versions of the zoetrope.
In September 1887, Anschütz introduced a hand-cranked Tachyscope with a diameter of 58 centimeter and with the choice to look through one of three rows with 19, 20 and 21 apertures. This allowed the use of strips with different amounts of pictures and the choice to view the images either as staying in place or moving around. Scientific chronophotographer Étienne-Jules Marey bought such a Tachyscope in March 1889. It was followed in 1890 by a "Salon Tachyscope" for which the 180 centimeter long picture bands had to be attached to a base to form the zoetrope-type drum. Each strip had the appropriate amount of slots in between the lithographed pictures and the base could be turned into a vertical position. Anschütz produced two simplified versions in 1891. The zoetrope-type Schnellsehers were mainly made for people to use at home and Anschütz probably wanted to make his work available to many people through commercial exploitation, but he was very careful to keep the image quality high and chose to manufacture all image strips personally at his studio, which resulted in relatively small quantities.
At his own studio in Berlin, Anschütz offered hand-cranked home models with glass wheels and Geissler tubes as well as zoetrope Schnellsehers until at least 1905.

Motion picture works

Anschütz made many chronophotography series and adapted at least 60 of them for the Elektrotachyscope. He started with chronophotography studies of horses for the military in 1885. In 1888, he made motion studies of animals in the Breslau zoo in 1888. He also recorded acrobats, dancers, athletes, boxers, wrestlers, sports and horse races. Already more an artistic and skilful photographer than a scientist, he chose different subjects when he started commercially exploiting the Schnellseher as an attraction. He recorded several comical scenes based on everyday life, including Lustige Fahrt , Zwei ZimmerleuteFrüstückend , Familie essend aus einem Topfe , Raufende Jungen ,Zwei Herrn eine Prize Schnupftabak nehmend , Einseifen beim Barbier ,Tabakschnupfender Alter and Skatspieler ''.
Little of Anschütz' motion picture output has yet resurfaced. Although many examples of his printed chronophotography survived, all that could be found from his later entertainment-oriented work was a fuzzy image with three card players as seen in a detail of a 1926 photograph of a home model automat Schnellseher.


By 1886, when Anschütz developed his first Schnellseher and presented it to family and friends, photographic motion pictures recorded in real-time had only been seen from chronophotograph prints in zoetropes or similar devices. Eadweard Muybridge had mostly shown moving silhouettes traced from his chronophotographs onto glass discs with his Praxinoscope in lectures since 1880; the only projected photographic moving images he ever made featured a stop motion animation of the skeleton of a horse. The oldest known cinematographic film is Louis Le Prince's Roundhay Garden Scene from October 1888.
Anschütz publicly presented his first Schnellseher in March 1887, presumably as the first device dedicated to the presentation of cinematography. The presentation of his projection Schnellseher on 25 November 1894 was presumably the first public instance of the cinematographic projection.
The Edison Company's Kinetoscope was most likely much influenced by the coin-operated Schnellseher automat, but mainly intended to show longer scenes. Of the 22 films produced by the company from 20 May 1891 to mid-March 1894, at least 15 have subjects that are very similar to those found in the works of Anschütz. Although several are logical examples of motion studies, some seem to have been based on Schnellseher discs. The Barbershop is probably an extended remake of Anschütz' Einseifen beim Barbier". Fred Ott's Sneeze was probably based on Tabakschnupfender Alter.
Auguste and Louis Lumière's Partie d’écarté seems very similar to the one image known from Anschütz' Skatspieler.

Related devices

An earlier, related device is described in the January 24, 1878 issue of the journal Nature.