On this day, 120 years ago, Thomas Edison finally finishes the construction of his Kinetographic Theater, which came to be known as the Black Maria. Read on to learn more about this milestone in filmmaking history!
On February 1, 1893, the construction of Thomas Edison’s very own movie studio in West Orange, New Jersey — and the world’s first at that — was completed. Formally called the Kinetographic Theater, construction began in December 1892 and costed $637.67 (about $15,272.99 in 2010). It was later nicknamed “The Black Maria,” the slang term for the dark, cramped, and uncomfortable police wagons with which Edison’s staff compared the simple studio. Edison, however, decided to name it “The Doghouse.”
Edison built the Black Maria as a venue for shooting films which will be exhibited using the Kinetoscope, an early motion picture device he conceptualized in 1888 and largely built by his employee William Kennedy Laurie Dickson between 1889 and 1892. The studio was dark, covered in tar paper, had a retractable roof, and was built on a turntable so it could be turned to face the sunlight throughout the day.
The Black Maria became Edison’s set for magic shows, plays, vaudeville performances, boxing matches, and many others. Among the best known films shot at the Black Maria are Fred Ott’s Sneeze, Sioux Ghost Dance, Blacksmith Scene, Buffalo Bill’s Shooting Skill, and Dickson Experimental Sound Film. In May 1893, Edison presented to the public the Blacksmith Scene, one of the first Kinetograph films he shot in the Black Maria, using the Kinetoscope viewer. Watch the clip below:
The Black Maria served Edison for 8 years. It was closed in January 1901 when Edison decided to build a glass-enclosed rooftop movie studio in New York City. It was demolished in 1903, but a replica of the Black Maria was built in 1954, situated at what is now called the Edison National Historic Site in West Orange, currently maintained by the U.S. National Park Service.
If you want to learn more about the Kinetograph and the Black Maria, you might want to watch the clip below: