Little Bits of History

February 1

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 1, 2017

1893: Black Maria is finished. Officially called the Kinetographic Theater and also known as the Doghouse by its builder, it is often credited as the world’s first movie studio. Built in West Orange, New Jersey by Thomas Edison on his laboratory grounds, it was a dark and cramped space used to film his first movies. Construction began in December 1892 and was completed on this day, costing $637.67 or close to $17,000 in today’s dollars. In early May, Edison brought his Kinetograph to the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences and showed an amazed audience a film. They could view this via a Kinetoscope viewer. The 28-second movie, Blacksmith Scene, showed three actors pretending to be blacksmiths.  The movie can be seen at You Tube by clicking here.

More fascinating films were created and were sent to the Library of Congress to be copyrighted. One of the first of a series of films made starring Fred Ott was officially called The Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze and more often called Fred Ott’s Sneeze. Ott was one of Edison’s assistants. The film was made for publicity purposes and was made along with several still shots to accompany an article written about the new technology in Harper’s Weekly. This film was the earliest motion picture to be registered for copyright and was literally the filming of Mr. Ott sneezing after taking a pinch of snuff. If you are interested in this title, it is also at You Tube and can be found here. Ott’s acting career continued when later that year, he also filmed Fred Ott Holding a Bird and in 1900 he filmed The Kiss.

The films were made in the tar-paper covered room with a retractable roof, needed for lighting issues. Early films were scenes from daily life as well as portions of magic shows, plays, and Vaudeville performances. There were strongmen, boxing matches, and cockfights filmed along with some movies of scantily clad women. Another sort of film can be imagined by its title, Prof. Welton’s Boxing Cats. Other titles leave one wondering, such as Cripple Creek Bar-Room Scene. The studio was called Black Maria because that is what crowded, uncomfortable, and stuffy paddywagons or police vans were called and the atmosphere in the studio was akin to that of the vans. The studio was also tar-papered black.

On Saturday, April 14, 1894, Edison began commercially operating his Kinetoscope at the Kinetoscope Parlor, opened by the Holland Brothers at 1155 Broadway in New York City. The first movie theater was a bit different from today and patrons purchased twenty-five cent tickets (about a dollar today), and were then permitted to watch movies showing in five kinetoscope machines lined up in two rows. About 500 people were the first to experience this new entertainment. It was successful enough for kinetoscope parlors to open in other cities (San Francisco, Atlantic City, and Chicago). With success growing, Edison built a new and better theater in New York City and Black Maria was destroyed in 1903.

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.

If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.

There’s a way to do it better – find it.

Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless. – all from Thomas A. Edison


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