Fred Ott's Sneeze

Directed by:William K. L. Dickson
“Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze,” commonly referred to as “Fred Ott’s Sneeze,” was one of the earliest Edison films; it is also significant as the first motion picture to be copyrighted in the United States. Running for 5 seconds in black and white, the film features Fred Ott, one of Edison’s assistants, taking a pinch of snuff and sneezing. The earliest movies were short “because their creators, like Edison, didn’t think people would stand the ‘flickers’ for more than 10 minutes.”(1)

1894 was a big year for film production in New Jersey. Edison’s employees William K. L. Dickson and Theodore Heise copyrighted approximately seventy-five motion pictures that year. The studio where they worked, the “Black Maria” – Edison’s first motion picture studio – can be seen at this page on our website:

(1) America’s Library website:

"Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze," Jan. 9, 1894, featuring Fred Ott. Photograph courtesy Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress:

The early stills above from “Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze” are now housed at the Library of Congress. Fred Ott, whose image appears above, was featured in two of the earliest surviving motion pictures: “Fred Ott’s Sneeze” and “Fred Ott Holding a Bird,” both made at Edison’s New Jersey studio in 1894. Born in the Garden State in 1860, Ott himself was a New Jersey native; he died in West Orange, New Jersey in 1836.

Many of Edison’s early kinetoscope films “disintegrated or burned because of the film’s nitrate (acidic) base. But luckily, he had made paper copies of the film’s individual frames, called ‘contact prints,’” including those shown above.(2)

(2) America’s Library website (see link below).

(Spring 2006)

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