I’m willing to bet a lot of someone else’s money that there are thousands more lolcat lovers than cat lovers in the world. Since I happen to be unashamedly both, I was suckered by the little 1894 film above from Thomas Edison’s Black Maria studios featuring “Professor Welton’s Boxing Cats.” Now, granted, there is no disclaimer telling us no animals were harmed, but it looks to me like good clean cat-boxing fun. As the Smithsonian page that posted this little gem declares, Edison is perhaps the “mogul who started lolcats.”
Edison is given credit for inventing a lot of things, many of which he simply appropriated, made his own, and marketed heavily. In this way, he exemplifies a particular brand of American entrepreneur skilled not so much in making things as in patenting them. The so-called “Wizard of Menlo Park” patented 1,093 inventions, among them his motion picture camera, or “kinetograph.” But as the Library of Congress reports, it is likely that Edison’s awkwardly-named assistant William Kennedy Laurie Dickson did the actual work of turning Edison’s concept (which he took from Eadweard Muybridge) into a reality.
Complexities of due credit aside, we can at least thank Edison for managing an efficient operation and also, for better or worse, pioneering litigation against his competitors (putting many of them out of business). His Black Maria Studios amassed quite an archive of early “actuality” films and silent fictional films of the Nickelodeon era, the most famous of which, The Great Train Robbery, you can watch below (with dubbed-in score).
The Library of Congress’s Edison page is an excellent resource for information on the history of film in general and Edison’s contributions in particular, and it features dozens of his short films available for download in RealMedia, Quick Time, or as MPEGs.
Josh Jones is a doctoral candidate in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.