“Do for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear.” – Edison

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A Man of Firsts – Thomas Edison

Famed American inventor Thomas Alva Edison was born on February 11, 1847 in Milan, Ohio. Although Edison is best known for being first to invent the light bulb, the phonograph, the first movie projector and camera, he also pioneered the American film industry. In honor of his birthday, DMG Entertainment highlights some of the “firsts” attributed to Thomas Edison in the early days of cinema. Ironically, Edison initially thought ‘film projection’ was financially nonviable, but soon realized the potential appetite in the public for entertainment, a hunger that now fuels a multi-billion dollar global industry. Sadly for Edison, the studio bearing his name, Edison Studios, closed in 1918.

The First Vision of Commercial Film: The Kinetoscope

Thomas Edison and his team of scientists conceptualized and developed the first commercialized motion picture viewing device, known as the kinetoscope. For one penny, 1890s early adopters could gain access to the single-viewer “peep show” exhibition and watch a 30 second film. On April 14, 1894, the first kinetoscope made its public début in New York. The public fell in love with the device, encouraging Edison to expand to other markets, such as Chicago and San Francisco.

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The First Movie Studio: Black Maria

In 1893, Thomas Edison opened the Black Maria in West Orange, New Jersey. Considered the world’s first movie studio, the Black Maria earned the name from its resemblance to the 1890s paddy wagon.

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The studio created nearly 1,200 films and captured dozens of “firsts” on screen, such as the first sneeze (FRED OTT’s SNEEZE 1894)…

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The first dancing diva (CARMENCITA 1894)…

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The first on-screen kiss (THE WIDOW JONES 1896)…

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And even the first cat video (THE BOXING CATS 1894)…

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The First Film Cartel: The Motion Picture Patents Company

Eventually, Edison came to appreciate the film industry’s potential profitability, and as was his style he had no intention of sharing it. In order to box out other studios and filmmakers, Edison teamed up with the then-industry’s strongest players to form a trust of all the major American film companies (Edison, Biograph, Vitagraph, Essanay, Selig Polyscope, Lubin Manufacturing, Kalem Company, Star Film Paris, American Pathé), the leading film distributor (George Kleine) and the biggest supplier of raw film stock, Eastman Kodak. The Motion Picture Patents Company opened its doors in December 1908. Edison used the MPPC to monopolize the industry by controlling access to motion picture technology, which he owned most of the patents on. The MPPC engaged in numerous legal battles to strong-arm rivals and prevent competing film productions.  On the plus side, the MPPC also ended foreign domination of American screens, standardized distribution and exhibition, and improved the overall quality of US movies.  The MPPC was the most feared organization in the industry, until 1915 when the federal courts ruled that it was a monopoly in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, effectively ending the MPPC’s reign by 1918.

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The First Reason to go to Los Angeles

The MPPC’s deep pockets and vast connections allowed Edison and his cronies to dominate the early film industry. Movie studios that wanted to compete against Edison found themselves in a stranglehold until they discovered a safe haven: California. Not only was the Sunshine State filled with judges that disliked Edison, but also had enough distance to make any enforcement of Edison’s patents tricky. By driving independent studios to flee to Los Angeles to escape the MPPC’s tight grip, Edison ultimately created Hollywood’s film mecca identity.

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The First Honorary Member of the Academy

On May 11, 1927, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded Thomas Edison with its first honorary membership. Of the 300 guests that attended the event, 230 of them joined the Academy as well.

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Happy Birthday Thomas Edison! Stay tuned to DMG Entertainment for the latest updates on our upcoming feature films.