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Collection Inventing Entertainment: The Early Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies

About this Collection

This site features 341 motion pictures, 81 disc sound recordings, and other related materials, such as photographs and original magazine articles. Cylinder sound recordings will be added to this site in the near future. In addition, histories are given of Edison's involvement with motion pictures and sound recordings, as well as a special page focusing on the life of the great inventor. Prolific inventor Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) has had a profound impact on modern life. In his lifetime, the "Wizard of Menlo Park" patented 1,093 inventions, including the phonograph, the kinetograph (a motion picture camera), and the kinetoscope (a motion picture viewer). Edison managed to become not only a renowned inventor, but also a prominent manufacturer and businessman through the merchandising of his inventions. The collections in the Library of Congress's Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division contain an extraordinary range of the surviving products of Edison's entertainment inventions and industries.

The Paper Print Film Collection at the Library of Congress

Most of the films from the New York, President McKinley, and the Pan-American Exposition, Westinghouse Works, 18 San Francisco, Variety Stage, Spanish-American War, and Edison presentations, are from the Paper Print Collection of the Library of Congress Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division. Because the copyright law did not cover motion pictures until 1912, early film producers who desired protection for their work sent paper contact prints of their motion pictures to the U.S. Copyright Office at the Library of Congress. These paper prints were made using light-sensitive paper the same width and length as the film itself, and developed as though a still photograph. Some motion picture companies, such as the Edison Company and the Biograph Company, submitted entire motion pictures--frame by frame--as paper prints. Other producers submitted only illustrative sequences.

The Paper Print Collection contains more than 3,000 motion pictures. Most are American but many are from England, France, and Denmark. The extreme scarcity of early motion pictures makes these paper prints particularly valuable. In most instances they remain the only record of early films, providing a rare insight into America at the start of the twentieth century and the beginnings of the motion picture industry in America.