On this Day in Movie History, October 18, 1931: Thomas Edison Dies

18 Oct

It was on this day, October 18, 1931, the “Wizard of Menlo Park,” Thomas Alva Edison died. Patenting over a thousand inventions during his lifetime including, of course, the phonograph, the light bulb and the motion picture camera, he was one of the first inventors to apply the principles of mass production and large-scale teamwork to the process of invention, and because of that, he is often credited with the creation of the first industrial research laboratory.

His Kinetograph camera and Kinetoscope technology, co-created with his often unsung colleague W.K.L. Dickson, revolutionized the movie industry, and lead to Edison forming the first (and short lived) film trust, the Motion Pictures Patents Company.

In 1893, the world’s first film production studio, the Black Maria, or the Kinetographic Theater, was completed on the grounds of Edison’s laboratories at West Orange, New Jersey, for the purpose of making film strips for the Kinetoscope.

In early January 1894, The Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze (aka Fred Ott’s Sneeze) was one of the first series of short films made by Dickson for the Kinetoscope in Edison’s Black Maria studio with fellow assistant Fred Ott. On Saturday, April 14, 1894, Edison’s Kinetoscope began commercial operation. Edison’s film studio was used to supply films for this sensational new form of entertainment.

When Edison built a glass-enclosed rooftop movie studio in New York City, the Black Maria was closed in January 1901 due to the purchase of a new studio in New York, and Edison demolished the building in 1903. By 1915, the federal government directed Edison’s trust to disband on grounds that it violated anti-trust laws, thus ending his glamorous movie career.

Nevertheless Edison continued to invent new gadgets until the end. His last words were “It is very beautiful over there.” Thomas Edison died of complications of diabetes on October 18, 1931, in his home, “Glenmont” in Llewellyn Park in West Orange, New Jersey. He is buried behind the home.

Edison’s last breath is reportedly contained in a test tube at the Henry Ford Museum. Ford reportedly convinced Charles Edison to seal a test tube of air in the inventor’s room shortly after his death, as a memento. A plaster death mask was also made.

The U. S. National Park Service maintains a reproduction of the Black Maria, built in 1954 at what is now the Edison National Historic Site in West Orange. A previous reconstruction had been built and dedicated in May 1940 when MGM held the world premiere of Edison, the Man starring Spencer Tracy in theaters throughout The Oranges (West Orange, East Orange, South Orange, and Orange).

1902 – Miriam Hopkins (actress: The Children’s Hour, The Chase, Carrie, Barbary Coast; died Oct 9, 1972)

1918 – Bobby Troup (actor: Emergency; singer, musician, TV host: Stars of Jazz; married to singer Julie London; died Feb 7, 1999)

1927 – George C. (Campbell) Scott (Academy Award-winning actor: Patton [1970]; Anatomy of a Murder, The Day of the Dolphin, The Hanging Tree, Taps, Oklahoma Crude, The Prince and the Pauper, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Malice; died Sep 22, 1999)

1934 – Inger Stevens (Stensland) (actress: The Farmer’s Daughter, Madigan, A Guide for the Married Man, Hang ’Em High; died Apr 30, 1970)

1935 – Peter Boyle (Emmy Award-winning actor: The X-Files [1995-1996]; Everybody Loves Raymond, Taxi Driver, While You were Sleeping, Young Frankenstein, Midnight Caller, From Here to Eternity [TV]; died Dec 12, 2006)

1947 – Joe Morton (actor: Executive Decision, Speed, Of Mice and Men, Forever Young, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, City of Hope, Trouble in Mind, The Brother from Another Planet, Tribeca, Grady, Equal Justice, A Different World)

1951 – Pam Dawber (actress: Mork & Mindy, My Sister Sam)

1960 – Erin Moran (actress: Happy Days, Joanie Loves Chachi, The Don Rickles Show, Daktari, Galaxy of Terror, Twirl, Watermelon Man, How Sweet It Is!)

1960 – Jean-Claude Van Damme (Varenberg) (actor: Kickboxer, Double Impact, Universal Soldier, Nowhere to Run, Last Action Hero, Hard Target, Timecop)

1962 – Vincent Spano (actor: The Tie That Binds, The Ascent, Oscar, City of Hope, And God Created Woman, Blood Ties, Rumblefish, Baby, It’s You, The Double McGuffin)


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