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


The following timeline focuses on major events in Thomas A. Edison''s personal life and on his motion picture and phonograph inventions. For a more detailed of Edison''s life and work, please consult the Thomas A. Edison Papers website at Rutgers University External.


  1. 1847

    Thomas Alva Edison born on February 11 in Milan, Ohio.

  2. 1854

    Edison's family moves to Port Huron, Michigan.

  3. 1859

    Edison takes job selling newspapers and candy on the Grand Trunk Railway.

  4. 1862

    Edison begins work as a telegraph operator in Port Huron.

  5. 1863

    Edison obtains telegraph job for the Grand Trunk Railway in Ontario.

    Edison returns to the U.S. in the fall and goes from city to city as a telegraph operator.

  6. 1869

    Edison arrives in New York City and eventually gets job at Laws' Gold Indicator Co. after fixing the company's stock ticker.

    Edison receives patent in June for his first invention, an electric vote recorder.

  7. 1870

    Edison opens his first workshop in Newark, New Jersey.

  8. 1871

    Edison marries Mary Stilwell on December 25.

  9. 1873

    Edison's daughter, Marion Estelle ("Dot"), is born.

  10. 1876

    Edison moves to Menlo Park, New Jersey, and establishes laboratory.

    Edison's son, Thomas Alva, Jr. ("Dash"), is born on January 10.

  11. 1877

    Edison invents carbon telephone transmitter, extending the clarity and range of the telephone.

    Edison develops tin foil cylinder phonograph; files patent for it on December 24 which is awarded on February 19, 1878.

  12. 1878

    Edison Speaking Phonograph Co. incorporated April 24.

    Edison's son, William Leslie, is born on October 26.

    Thomas Edison, 1878
  13. 1878-79

    Edison devises an electric incandescent light bulb that lasts for more than 13 hours.

  14. 1879

    Organizes the Edison Ore Milling Company.



  1. 1880

    Edison discovers phenomenon which is later termed the "Edison Effect".

  2. 1881

    Edison creates the Edison Electric Lamp Co., the Edison Machine Works and other companies to produce his electric lighting system.

  3. 1882

    Edison opens a commercial electric station in New York City with approximately 85 customers.

    The Menlo Park laboratory is closed, and another instituted in New York City.

  4. 1884

    Edison's wife, Mary, dies on August 9.

  5. 1886

    Patent awarded to Chichester A. Bell and Charles Sumner Tainter for their wax cylinder graphophone; Edison later refuses to collaborate with them on the invention.

    Edison marries Mina Miller on February 24.

    Moves his laboratory to East Newark, New Jersey.

    Edison's second wife, Mina, from The Life and Inventions of Thomas Alva Edison , by W. K. L. Dickson and Antonia Dickson, p. 349.
  6. 1887

    Edison develops the New Phonograph, using a wax cylinder.

    Edison Phonograph Co. formed in October.

    Edison moves to a larger and more modern laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey.

  7. 1888

    Edison meets Eadweard Muybridge, who shows him his zoopraxiscope; Edison sets William K. L. Dickson and other assistants to work to make a Kinetoscope, "an instrument which does for the Eye what the phonograph does for the Ear".

    Improved Phonograph introduced, followed by the Perfected Phonograph.

    Edison's daughter, Madeleine, is born on May 31.

    Jesse H. Lippincott assumes control of phonograph companies by forming the North American Phonograph Co. on July 14; leases phonographs as dictation machines.

    Edison files his first caveat(a Patent Office document in which one declares his work on a particular invention in anticipation of filing a patent application) on the Kinetoscope and Kinetograph on October 8; William Kennedy Laurie Dickson assigned to work on project.

  8. 1889

    Edison produces dolls with tiny cylinders inside to make them talk for the Edison Phonograph Toy Manufacturing Co.; project ceases in March 1891.

    Edison General Electric formed in April.

    Edison Manufacturing Co. is organized.



  1. 1890

    Lippincott becomes ill and loses control of North American Phonograph Co. to Edison, its principal creditor.

    Edison's son, Charles, is born on August 3.

  2. 1891

    A peep-hole viewing machine shown by Edison on May 20 to participants from the National Federation of Women's Clubs.

  3. 1892

    Edison General Electric and Thomson-Houston merge into General Electric.

    Thomas A. Edison with his children Madeleine and Charles, circa 1892, from The Life and Inventions of Thomas Alva Edison, by W. K. L. Dickson and Antonia Dickson, p. 352.
  4. 1893

    Construction on a film studio known to Edison employees as the "Black Maria" completed in February; earliest Edison motion pictures were filmed there.

    First public demonstration of Edison's 1 1/2" system of Kinetoscope at the Brooklyn Institute on May 9.

    Copyright registered to William K. L. Dickson for sample kinetoscope records on October 6.

  5. 1894

    Edison declares bankruptcy for the North American Phonograph Co.

    Applications submitted to U.S. Patent Office for the Kinetograph and the Kinetoscope.

    First Kinetoscope parlor opened in midtown Manhattan on April 14.

    Edison puts the Edison Manufacturing Co. in charge of the manufacture and sale of Kinetoscopes and films on April 1.

  6. 1894-95

    Edison and Dickson experiment to synchronize sound with film; the Kinetophone is invented which loosely synchronizes a Kinetoscope image with a cylinder phonograph.

  7. 1895

    The Edison Spring Motor Phonograph appears.

    Dickson leaves Edison's employ on April 2.

    C. Francis Jenkins and Thomas Armat demonstrate their Phantoscope, a motion picture projector, in Atlanta, Georgia, in late September to early October.

  8. 1896

    Edison forms the National Phonograph Co. with the purpose of manufacturing phongraphs for home use on January 27.

    Spring Motor Phonograph is released under aegis of the National Phonograph Co., followed by the Edison Home Phonograph.

    Edison negotiates in January with Raff & Gammon to manufacture the Phantoscope which Armat presents as his own invention; machine is renamed the Vitascope in February, and Edison's name put on it.

    Vitascope publicly exhibited at Koster & Bial's Music Hall on April 23 to great acclaim.

    The company begins practice of copyrighting its films on October 23 by sending short pieces of positive nitrate film from the motion pictures to the Library of Congress.

    Edison distances himself from agreement with Raff & Gammon; introduces the Projecting Kinetoscope or Projectoscope on November 30 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

  9. 1897

    Edison Standard Phonograph manufactured.

    Edison begins to send positive paper prints of motion pictures for copyright deposit to the Library of Congress in August.

    James White hired to head Kinetograph Department at the Edison Manufacturing Co. in October.

    Edison begins legal battles in December that continue for the following year against other producers and exhibitors whom he charges with infringement.

  10. 1898

    Spanish-American War occurs; Edison Company sends cameraman to Cuba to film scenes of war.

    Edison's son, Theodore Miller, is born on July 10.

  11. 1899

    Edison Concert Phonograph introduced.



  1. 1900

    Edison Manufacturing Co. incorporated on May 5.

    Edwin S. Porter hired by Edison Co. in November to work with film equipment; he later becomes the company's most famous director.

    Glenmont, Edison's home, circa 1892, from The Life and Inventions of Thomas Alva Edison, by W. K. L. Dickson and Antonia Dickson, p. 340.
  2. 1901

    Process for mass-producing duplicate wax cylinders put into effect; they are known as Gold Moulded cylinders.

    A new film studio for the Edison Co. in New York is completed in January; this is the nation's first indoor, glass-enclosed studio.

    U.S. Circuit Court recognizes Edison's motion picture patent claims in his suit in July; American Mutoscope & Biograph Company appeals decision.

    Edison cameras are present at Pan-American Exposition when President McKinley is shot by an assassin.

  3. 1902

    Circuit Court's decision reversed on March 10 by Court of Appeals, which essentially disallows Edison having a monopoly on motion picture apparatus.

  4. 1903

    One of the most famous early films, The Great Train Robbery, directed by Edwin S. Porter, is filmed during November.

  5. 1905

    Business Phonograph introduced.

    Nickelodeons become popular in Chicago and later spread to other urban areas.

  6. 1908

    Amberol Record introduced; the cylinder could play as long as four minutes, twice as long as previous cylinders.

    Association of Edison Licensees and Film Service Association formed; Motion Picture Patents Co. formed from it later to include Biograph licensees.

    New Edison film studio opened in the Bronx, New York, June-July.

  7. 1909

    Edwin S. Porter fired on November 10.

  8. 1910

    Company reorganized into Thomas A. Edison, Inc.

  9. 1911

    Edison Disc Phonograph shown in public for the first time.

  10. 1912

    Edison Disc Phonograph put on sale.

    Blue Amberol introduced, an unbreakable cylinder with superior sound.

  11. 1913

    Kinetophone is introduced, which attempts to synchronize motion pictures with a phonograph cylinder record.

  12. 1915

    Kinetophone abandoned.

    Tone tests for Diamond Discs introduced.

    Motion Picture Patents Co. found guilty of antitrust violation on October 1.

    Edison named head of the Naval Consulting Board.

  13. 1917

    American involvement in World War I begins; Edison creates Army and Navy Model of the Disc Phonograph.

  14. 1918

    Motion picture studio ceases production in February; studio sold on March 30 to the Lincoln & Parker Film Co.

  15. 1926

    Edison resigns as president of Thomas A. Edison, Inc., and becomes chairman of the board; his son, Charles takes over as president.

  16. 1928

    Edison takes over Splitdorf-Bethlehem Electrical Co., a move which allows him to manufacture radios.

    Edison awarded Congressional gold metal for his many contributions.

  17. 1929

    Edison makes programs for radio on long-playing discs; first used by radio station WAAM of Newark, New Jersey, on April 4.

    Edison Portable Disc Phonograph with New Edison Needle Records introduced.

    Orders given on October 21 to close the Edison disc business.

  18. 1931

    Edison dies in West Orange on October 18.