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I'd like to know if there is a reason why Dickons and Edison chose exactly 35mm as the width of their films.

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There's a little bit on this in my answer to What historic reasons are there for common aspect ratios? –  mattdm Mar 20 '12 at 18:23

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Yes, they took normal 70mm film stock used to make movies, and cut it in half. It was cheap. It was really not a big deal at the time.

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OK, then why is 70mm 70mm? –  Max Ried Mar 20 '12 at 18:07
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@Max, as far as I can tell, it's basically a random coincidence of history with no deep meaning. –  mattdm Mar 20 '12 at 18:25
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Probably because in the very early movie days, they had bad film and weak lenses. By the late silent movie days, everything was 35mm, which was 1/4 the size (half the width and half the length) It went back to 70mm for Color epic films as they had to compete with TV in the 50s and early 60s –  Pat Farrell Mar 20 '12 at 23:28
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@MaxRied: Becuause 70mm is half the width of an ancient Roman artifact... astrodigital.org/space/stshorse.html –  Flimzy Mar 21 '12 at 1:53
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@MaxRied: Yes, the horse ass explanation is indeed a hoax (snopes.com/history/american/gauge.asp)... but it's cute just the same :) –  Flimzy Mar 21 '12 at 8:31

There is a history of the film formats and sizes on this site. It goes into some of the particulars you're interested in. It boils down to the size being half the size of film (70mm) of the time.

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