Thomas Edison’s Boxing Cats (1894), or Where the LOLCats All Began

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.

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