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Fred Ott

Fred Ott's Sneeze

Frederick Paul Ott (1860 in New Jersey – October 24, 1936 in West Orange, New Jersey), skilled machinist, was a key employee of Thomas Edison's laboratories from the 1870s until Edison's death in 1931. His likeness appears in two of the earliest surviving motion pictures – the well-known Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze (a.k.a. Fred Ott's Sneeze) and the little-seen Fred Ott Holding a Bird – both from 1894.[1]

The former became an icon of cinema itself. Shot in medium close-up, the film shows Ott seemingly taking a pinch of snuff causing him to sneeze. Comic in format, The Sneeze, as it also came to be known, was made in early January 1894 at the request of Harper's Weekly magazine, which requested illustrations for an article about the Kinetoscope.[2]

Ott began working with Edison in 1874 (at age 14) and became one of the inventor's most valued employees and closest friends. Alongside his brother John F. Ott, he worked with Edison on many inventions, retiring shortly after the nearly-simultaneous deaths of Edison and John Ott in 1931.[3] Ott died at his home in West Orange, New Jersey, on October 24, 1936.[4]


See also


  1. ^ Charles Musser, Edison Motion Pictures, 1890-1900: An Annotated Filmography, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, 1997. Also Gordon Hendricks, "A New Look at an 'Old Sneeze'", Film Culture 22/23 (Summer 1961).
  2. ^ Paul Spehr, The Man Who Made Movies: W.K.L. Dickson (John Libbey Publishing, 2008), 324-25. Barnet Phillips, “The Record of a Sneeze,” Harper's Weekly, March 24, 1894, published 81 frames from the film. See also Luke McKernan's entry for Ott in Who's Who of Victorian Cinema (1996) accessed Aug. 15, 2022.
  3. ^ "A Brief Biography of Thomas Edison", Edison National Historical Park website, U.S. National Park Service, last updated Feb. 26, 2015. Accessed Aug. 15, 2022. See also A. J. Millard, A History of Edison's West Orange Laboratory, 1887-1931, report for National Park Service (1987); A. J. Millard, Duncan Hay, and Mary K. Grassick, Historic Furnishings Report, Vol. 1: Historical Data and Furnishing Plan, Edison Laboratory (U.S. National Park Service, 1995), pp. 72-73 ff.
  4. ^ "Frederick P. Ott, Edison Aide, Dies; Became Associated With the Inventor in 1874, Working in Small Newark Plant, Assisted In Film Work Collaborated in Development of Motion Pictures, Electric Light and Phonograph", The New York Times, October 25, 1936. Accessed June 28, 2018. "West Orange, N. J,. Oct. 24. - Frederick P. Ott, for many years an associate of Thomas A. Edison and who worked with the late inventor in the development of the electric light, the phonograph and motion pictures, died at his home here today." See also "Ott, First Screen Actor, Dies at 76," Motion Picture Herald, Oct. 31, 1936, p. 34.

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Fred Ott
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