Bioscope is a term for a film projector. Its first use in a moving image context precedes projected film. Hermann Hecht’s monumental Pre-Cinema History: An Encyclopaedia and Annotated Bibliography of the Moving Image Before 1896 records an 1852 reference to the stéréo-fantastique or Bioscope of Jules Dubosq, a combination either of the Phenakistoscope (Plateau’s spinning disk with images on its edge which when its mirror reflection was viewed through slots gave an illusion of motion) with the stereoscope, or the Zoetrope (using the same principle as the phenakistoscope but with the images on the inside of a drum) and the stereoscope. The effect was to produce moving, stereoscopic pictures.
On the cusp of projected film, in 1892 the Frenchman Georges Demenÿ patented a motion picture device he named the Phonoscope, which projected brief images from rotating glass discs. When the Phonoscope was marketed by Gaumont from the end of 1895, it was renamed a Bioscope. Also at the end of 1895 the German Max Skladanowsky named his projector a Bioskop, and gave the the first commercial presentation of projected film in Europe with it at the Berlin Wintergarten theatre on 1 November 1895.
In 1896 the American Charles Urban developed a projector with the engineer Walter Isaacs, which he named a Bioscope. When Urban moved to Britain in 1897 he brought the Bioscope with him. He built a successful business on the back of the Bioscope projector and the use of Bioscope as a brand, to the extent that for a while the word became synonymous with cinema itself. A version of the Bioscope c.1900 is illustrated in this site’s header.
More on the history and etymology of the Bioscope to follow…