It wasn't until Brown sold the rights to his invention to a motion picture heavyweight in the U.S., Charles Urban (1867 -1942), that any real marketing or production commenced. Charles started promoting the Spirograph as early as 1915. Urban Motion Picture Industries, Inc. was created in New York City in 1921 to produce the machine, which it did for just two years. Obviously, the venture was ultimately unsuccessful and production ceased in 1922.

Urban Spirograph


Urban Motion Picture Industries, Inc. 

New York, NY, US


The first motion picture disc player was patented in 1907 by U.K. inventor Theodore Brown (1870 - 1938) though he never produced it commercially.

Theodore Brown

Charles Urban

The Spirograph was a hand-cranked mechanical device that played 10-1/2" "motion picture records." Each record contained 1,200 frames of a silent film that was arranged into a spiral. When played at the correct rate, the films lasted about 1-1/4 minutes. These films were not released in theaters since the Spirograph was meant for personal home use. A single light bulb back-lit the discs while the user viewed the films through an eyepiece. 

There were at least a couple hundred films produced which a separate company was established to sell them, the Spiro Film Corporation, also of New York. Based on old catalogs, it is fair to assume that there was a hope that these films would be used as in-class teaching tools.

As mentioned earlier, the Spirograph had very little marketable success but we shouldn't feel sorry for Theodore Brown or Charles Urban. The two men had successful careers outside this one failed endeavor, Charles especially, both of which are readily available to discover for yourselves via Google. The Spirograph's legacy is that it will always be the first ever movie disc player.

Comments? Have an Urban Spirograph for sale? Please email me at or call +1 (860) 729-2252