Despite their cool-sounding name, mutoscopes don’t actually mutate anything, much to the disappointment of Calvin, Hobbes, and related small children. In fact, the only thing at Disneyland capable of causing mutations were the old x-ray machines you could put your head in to see how well your Mickey Mouse hat fit, and Tomorrowland’s iconic “glow churros,” both of which have been discontinued.
When activated by the insertion of a penny and the turn of a crank, mutoscopes flip through a series of photographs giving the illusion of a moving picture, much like big, iron, black-and-white flip books, but with a much higher construction cost and less resistance to rust. Disneyland’s mutoscopes feature films by Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Hopalong Cassidy, Ronald Regan, and other silent-era stars that mean as much to today’s youth as 78s, dime novels, and, well, mutoscopes.
In Disneyland’s early days, some guests complained that they spent a penny only to see a “lame little film” when they turned the crank. This is where the phrase “a turn for the worse” came from.
Coming up next: Pressed pennies (and other coins)