History of Edison Motion Pictures

"I am experimenting upon an instrument which does for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear, which is the recording and reproduction of things in motion ...."

--Thomas A. Edison, 1888

Edison's laboratory was responsible for the invention of the Kinetograph (a motion picture camera) and the Kinetoscope (a peep-hole motion picture viewer). Most of this work was performed by Edison's assistant, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson, beginning in 1888. Motion pictures became a successful entertainment industry in less than a decade, with single-viewer Kinetoscopes giving way to films projected for mass audiences. The Edison Manufacturing Co. (later known as Thomas A. Edison, Inc.) not only built the apparatus for filming and projecting motion pictures, but also produced films for public consumption. Most early examples were actualities showing famous people, news events, disasters, people at work, new modes of travel and technology, scenic views, expositions, and other leisure activities. As actualities declined in popularity, the company's production emphasis shifted to comedies and dramas.

This collection features 341 Edison films, including 127 titles also available in other American Memory motion picture groupings. The earliest example is a camera test made in 1891, followed by other tests and a wide variety of actualities and dramas through the year 1918, when Edison's company ceased film production. The presentation also offers a brief history of Edison's work with motion pictures as well as an overview of the different film genres produced by the Edison company.