To Thomas Alva Edison goes the credit for motion pictures, though at the time he did not regard his invention to seriously. He considered movies, as did many others, a novelty that would soon wear off. In 1889 the original motion picture machine came into being. It was called the Kinetoscope. It consisted of a cabinet inside which a length of film revolved on spools. When a coin was dropped into a slot an electric light shone on the film which was projected on the end of the cabinet. You saw the "moving picture" through a peephole just big enough for the human eye. These films were about fifty feet in length and ran for less than a minute. The subjects of Edison's films were simple -- a baby being bathed, a dog with a bone, portions of boxing matches, dances and vaudeville turns -- all suitable to show movement, jerky of course, but movement. To supply these films for the peepshow Kinetoscopes the first motion picture studio in the world was built by Edison in East Orange, New Jersey, at the cost of $637. Completed on February 1, 1893, it was dubbed "The Black Maria" and was swung from a pivot post to permit the stage to follow the light of the sun. In 1984 the Edison Kinetoscope machines were sold in the open market and presented commercially to the New York public in what was called Kinetoscope Parlors.
Before the end of the year natives of Chicago, San Francisco, Atlantic City, Washington and Baltimore were introduced to the new wonder and soon Kinetoscope Parlors were flourishing all over the United States. This same year Alexander Black, who later became a wellknown writer, discovered the photoplay. A series of photographic slides taken from life were projected a on a screen by a magic lantern machine. They illustrated a story Black would read from the stage. He showed four slides a minute for his presentation and each picture was a step forward in action. For his first picture play he wrote 14,000 words and took as his subject the adventures of a girl reporter, "Miss Jerry." Blanche Bayliss, a well-known artist's model, played the title role and William Courtenay, who later became a celebrated stage star, was the hero. The first recorded film, in 1893, was made of a sneeze performed by Fred Ott, an assistant in the Edison West Orange Laboratory. The list of films made during those early years included Mme. Bertholdi, a contortionist; Annie Oakley; Colonel William Cody, the original Buffalo Bill; Eugene Sandow, the strong man; the Butterfly Dance by Annabelle, who later as Annabelle Whitford became one of Ziegfield's first glorified beauties; and a film labeled simply "Dance" made with Miss Ruth Dennis, a voung lady from Brooklyn who became a famous dancer as Ruth St. Dennis. In 1984 James J. Corbett and Peter Courtenay made the first fight film before the Edison camera at West Orange for the peepshow machines. That same year Woodville Latham devised a projector which he called the Pantoptikon. It was far from perfect, the pictures flickered, jumped and glimmered but it projected moving pictures on the newborn screen. On May 20, 1895, the first public showing took place on the roof of the Madison Square Garden. About the same time that Latham launched his imperfect projector, Louis and Auguste Lumiere of France patented their first projection machine. Others engaged in nearly parallel efforts which were to affect the course of the screen were Thomas Armat of Washington, D. C., and Robert W. Paul of London. On April 20, 1896, Koster and Bial's Music Hall began presenting Edison's Vitascope pictures as one of the "acts" of their variety bill.
The same year one of the most famous of the early films was made showing the kissing scene between May Irwin and John C. Rice from their stage success "The Widow Jones." On March 17, 1897, the Corbett-Fitzsimmns fight at Carson City was filmed for Edison by a camera made especially for the event by Enoch J. Rector Eleven thousnd fet of film were used, at that time the world's record for photographing a single event. Edison was now due for competition. William Kennedy and Laurie Dickson, who had formerly been associates of Edison, formed the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company on October 12, 1896, for the purpose of making motion pictures. The next year, Sigmund Lubin in Philadelphia made his first film "Horse Eating Hay" and J. Stuart Blackton, Albert E. Smith and William T. Rock joined forces to form the Vitagraph Company of America. France was entering the competition too with such pioneers as George Méliés, Charles Pathé and Leon Gaumont. On April 16, 1902, the first motion picture threatre, the Electric, opened its doors in Los Angeles. That same year Méliés, who had formerly been a magician, made the first narrative film, the now famous "Trip To The Moon." In 1903 Edison followed with his equally fmous first American narrative film, "The Great Train Robbery." It was 800 feet long and directed by Edwin S. Porter. Joseph Jefferson filmed scenes from his famus stage success "Rip Van Winkle" for Biograph and in 1904 Vitagraph persuaded Kyrle Bellew, noted actor, to film a tabloid version of "A Gentleman of France" which he had performed on the stage.