The First American Movie Studio

Black Maria

Edison Logo 1
The first studio of the "Wizard of Menlo Park"

Edison's Black Maria Studio

West Orange, NJ. 
Active from 1893-1901

Thomas Edison is considered one of America's premier inventors.  He invented many iconic devices: the phonograph, direct current electricity, a light bulb, film camera and projection equipment, and more.  He was considered a genius not only for his inventions but for his business skills, as well.

In 1891 Thomas Edison created a moving picture viewing device called the Kinetoscope for showing film strips made by Edward Muybridge (pronounces Moi'-bridge), the man who invented the moving picture.  The device was not a projector, but a viewer for one person at a time.  A person would look through an eyepiece on the top of the viewer and a long film strip inside was moved by turning a crank.

Muybridge's moving pictures were created from a series of still images strung together into a film strip.  Edison thought it could be done differently and better so.  In 1891 he built his version of a movie camera invented by Louis Le Prince in 1886. In 1893, wanting to produce his own moving pictures for the Kinetoscope he built what is considered the nation’s first movie studio, the Black Maria (pronounced muh-RY-uh) at his Laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey. 

The studio was a small, black, house like wood frame building with black tar paper walls.  It was light-tight, designed to keep the light out except when the retractable roof was raised to let sunlight in.  It sat on a turntable, so it could aim the light inside as the sun moved across the sky.  The actors played on a stage at one end of the small studio, and the camera rested at the other end..  The raised roof would let an appropriate amount of light fall on the players.

According to employees the studio was small, hot and uncomfortable.  They could only be in it for short periods of time.  The earliest surviving copyrighted movie shot in the studio was called "Fred Ott's Sneeze."  Click here to see it.

Edison produced hundreds of movies here over the course of eight years, until he built a new studio in Manhattan, then moved finally to the Bronx.

The site was designated Edison Laboratory National Monument on July 14, 1956.  On September 5, 1962, the 21 acre site became a United States National Historic Site overseen by the National Park Service.

Thomas Edison Photo Gallery

Please contact me if you would like a copy of this image

Scroll to Top