Edison Studios was an American motion picture production company owned by the Edison Company of inventor Thomas Edison. The studio made close to 1,200 films as the Edison Manufacturing Company (1894–1911) and Thomas A. Edison, Inc. (1911–1918) until the studio's closing in 1918. Of that number, 54 were feature length, the remainder were shorts.
Its first production facility, Edison's Black Maria studios in West Orange, New Jersey, was built in the winter of 1892–93. The second facility, a glass-enclosed rooftop studio built at 41 East 21st Street in Manhattan's entertainment district, opened in 1901. In 1907, Edison had new facilities built on Decatur Avenue and Oliver Place in the Bronx.
Edison himself played no direct part in the making of his studio's films beyond being the owner, and appointing William Gilmore as vice-president and general manager. Edison's assistant William Kennedy Dickson, who supervised the development of Edison's motion picture system, produced the first Edison films intended for public exhibition, 1893–95. After Dickson's departure for Biograph in 1895, he was replaced as director of production by cameraman William Heise, then from 1896 to 1903 by James H. White. When White left to supervise Edison's European interests in 1903, he was replaced by William Markgraf (1903–1904), then Alex T. Moore (1904–1909), and Horace G. Plimpton (1909–1915).
The first commercially exhibited motion pictures in the United States were from Edison, and premiered at a Kinetoscope parlor in New York City on April 14, 1894. The program consisted of ten short films, each less than a minute long, of athletes, dancers, and other performers. After competitors began exhibiting films on screens, Edison introduced its own Projecting Kinetoscope in late 1896.
The earliest productions were brief "actualities" showing everything from acrobats to parades to fire calls. But competition from French and British story films in the early 1900s rapidly changed the market. By 1904, 85% of Edison's sales were from story films.
Some of the studio's notable productions include The Kiss (1896), The Great Train Robbery (1903), Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1910), the first Frankenstein film in 1910, the first ever serial made in 1912 titled What Happened to Mary, and The Land Beyond the Sunset (1912), which film historian William K. Everson considered "the screen's first genuinely lyrical film". The company also produced a number of short "Kinetophone" sound films in 1913–1914 using a sophisticated acoustical recording system capable of picking up sound from 30 feet away. The studio also released a number of Raoul Barré cartoon films in 1915.
[T]he Edison studios never turned out a notable director, or even one above average. Nor did the Edison films show the sense of dynamic progress that one gets from studying the Biograph films on a year-by-year basis. On the contrary, there is a sense of stagnation.
However, new restorations and screenings of Edison films in recent years contradict Everson's statement; indeed Everson's citing The Land Beyond the Sunset points out creativity at Edison beyond Porter and Collins as it was directed by Harold M. Shaw (1877–1926), who later went on to a successful career directing in England, South Africa, and Lithuania before returning to the US in 1922. Other important directors who started at Edison included Oscar Apfel, Charles Brabin, Alan Crosland, J. Searle Dawley and Edward H. Griffith.
In December 1908, Edison led the formation of the Motion Picture Patents Company in an attempt to control the industry and shut out smaller producers. The "Edison Trust,” as it was nicknamed, was made up of Edison, Biograph, Essanay Studios, Kalem Company, George Kleine Productions, Lubin Studios, Georges Méliès, Pathé, Selig Studios, and Vitagraph Studios, and dominated distribution through the General Film Company. The Motion Picture Patents Co. and the General Film Co. were found guilty of antitrust violation in October 1915, and were dissolved.
The breakup of the Trust by federal courts under monopoly laws, and the loss of European markets during World War I, hurt Edison financially. Edison sold its film business, including the Bronx studio, on March 30, 1918 to the Lincoln & Parker Film Company of Massachusetts.
- Everson, William K. (1998). American Silent Film. New York: Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80876-5.
- "Motion Picture Patents Company". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2007-04-13.
- U.S. v. Motion Picture Patents Co., 225 F. 800 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 1, 1915).
- "Company Records Series — Motion Picture Patents Company". The Thomas A. Edison Papers. Retrieved 2007-04-13.
- List of Edison Company films at the Internet Movie Database
- List of Edison Company films (1891-1898) is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]
- List of Edison Company films (1899-1902) is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]
- List of Edison Company films (1902-1922) is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]
- List of Edison Manufacturing Company films at the Internet Movie Database
- EdisonStudios.net (includes a viewable Edison Studios 1910 adaptation of "Frankenstein")