Thomas Edison the Movie Mogul

Along with his many other inventions, Thomas Edison invented (or at least marketed) motion picture cameras and films. I cover the history of the inventions in my book, Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World, but one fascinating aspect that most people may not be aware of is that Edison was the first movie mogul.

Black Maria

The first experimental films were shot in the West Orange laboratory, but as motion pictures gradually became more professional, Edison needed a professional studio in which to film. In December 1892, construction began behind Building 4 on a studio that Edison later remembered as “a ghastly proposition for a stranger daring enough to brave its mysteries.” Covered in black tar paper inside and out, it was dubbed the Black Maria after the slang term for the police paddy wagons of the day it resembled. Not coincidentally, it looked like Marey’s “barnlike studio” Edison had seen during his 1889 visit:

“It obeys no architectural rules, embraces no conventional materials, and follows no accepted schemes of color,” boasted the sometimes flamboyant Dickson of the Black Maria. He did admit it had “a weird and semi-nautical appearance.”

The Black Maria was a “fifty-by-eighteen-foot wood building with a twenty-one-foot-high pitched roof.” It also had two rather unique features. The first was the roof: “Half of the roof could be raised or lowered like a drawbridge by means of ropes, pulleys and weights, so that the sunlight could strike squarely on the space before the machine [i.e., the motion picture camera].” The studio had to allow in sunlight, even though it was outfitted with electricity; Edison’s incandescent bulbs were not bright enough for filmmaking, and arc lighting was too harsh. This need for light led to the second odd feature: The whole building was mounted “on a graphite pivot that allowed the staff to turn the studio on a wood track.” As the sun arced across the sky during the day, they simply turned the building to keep pace. Edison wistfully noted in later years how the building could “turn like a ship in a gale.”

Life of Abraham Lincoln still

Using this odd studio, Edison’s team – led by William K. L. Dickson, a natural showman – created thousands of films. Most were short; Fred Ott’s Sneeze was all of 5 seconds long. But eventually they grew to longer, though “longer” meant 10 minutes for The Great Train Robbery and 15 minutes for The Life of Abraham Lincoln.

Motion pictures quickly became a huge money maker for Edison, but just as quickly dropped off in value as competitors focused on longer movies while Edison was distracted by his many other endeavors.

]The above is adapted from Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World, in Barnes and Noble stores and online now. Read more about Thomas Edison and the book by clicking here.]

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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Tesla to Edison to Lincoln Redux

Early in the history of Science Traveler I wrote a post called “Tesla to Edison to Lincoln – Connecting the Dots.” It turns out that post was more prophetic than I ever could have imagined.

At the time I was still writing my book on Nikola Tesla, which was released in the summer of 2013. Three years later Tesla is into its 7th printing, is still selling well in Barnes and Noble stores, and has been translated into several foreign languages.

The success of Tesla led the publication of my book on Thomas Edison, which hit Barnes and Noble stores a couple of weeks ago (late July 2016). Future books in the series a possibility.

The popularity of my science series books has inspired the publisher to expand into a series on key historical figures. Among the first to be tackled is Abraham Lincoln. Since I’ve long been a history buff, in particular Abraham Lincoln (I have over 1200 Lincoln books on my shelf), it looks like I’ll be writing the first in the series.

Tesla to Edison to Lincoln!

Tesla Edison Lincoln

I’ll have more details once they get ironed out. The anticipated release date is sometime in 2017, but keep checking back here for updates. And look for my Tesla and Edison books in stores now!

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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LINCOLN’S 1860 ELECTION – A Special Event sponsored by the Lincoln Group of DC

lincoln-1860-ribbonSeven score and sixteen years ago the United States experienced a contentious election. The populace was terribly divided, one campaign openly pandered to the fears of white Americans, and the survival of the Union was in question. The winner of that election in 1860 was Abraham Lincoln, our 16th President.

What does the election of Lincoln have in common with the election of 2016? Are there lessons we can learn? Are we doomed to a forever divided nation, and divisive politics?

Come join us this Saturday, August 13th to find out.

The Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia sponsors Open Discussions of events in the life of Abraham Lincoln. The events are open to the public at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.

On Saturday, August 13, 2016, the group will discuss Lincoln’s 1860 Election, including his road to the Republican presidential nomination and his victory in the November election. Parallels to this year’s party nominations and the impending campaign will be explored by experienced LGDC Open Discussion leaders John O’Brien, chair of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church History Committee, and LGDC president John T. Elliff.

NY Avenue Church window

For those who don’t already know it, the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church is “Lincoln’s Church.” The family maintained a pew and Reverend Phineas Gurley was spiritual adviser to Abraham Lincoln during his time in Washington. A beautiful stained glass window depicting Lincoln overlooks the main meeting room. Since the church’s History Committee is co-hosting the event, the sanctuary (Lincoln pew, stained glass window), Lincoln Parlor (Emancipation document, Rev. Gurley portrait, desk and settee), and John Quincy Adams Room (Mary Lincoln letters, Lincoln desk set, etc.) will be available for viewing.

So come join us. The event is open to the public.

The discussion will be held from 10:00-12:00 at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, 1313 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, DC. Nearest Metro stations are McPherson Square and Metro Center; and Saturday discount parking is available nearby.

For further information and to sign up, visit the Lincoln Group website here.

David J. Kent is a Vice President of the Lincoln Group of DC. Learn more about us.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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Tesla vs Edison – The Battle Begins

Tesla vs Edison cartoonNikola Tesla was a sometimes eccentric genius who changed the world. Thomas Edison was a sometimes eccentric genius who changed the world. Wait, can both of those be true? Yes, and here’s why.

As I’ve written before, Tesla and Edison were two very different men of invention. Tesla liked to work alone and think big, while Edison commanded an “invention factory” and tinkered improvements incrementally. Tesla dressed impeccably and received formal college education, while Edison dressed frumpily and had almost no formal education. Tesla focused on inventing and let others try to commercialize his work; Edison focused on commercializing his work quickly, often before it was even ready.

On the other hand, both were hard workers and both helped bring new technologies into existence. And while we often think we know all about the two men, each gives us a few surprises, as these two prior posts show:

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Nikola Tesla

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Thomas Edison

It’s common for fans of Tesla to dismiss Edison, and vice versa. In reality their lives overlapped only briefly along one type of technology – AC vs DC power. Tesla (with George Westinghouse) won that battle. But outside of that issue their lives went in different directions. Tesla made significant advances in radio, wireless and renewable energy, neon lighting, rotary engines, bladeless turbines, and robotics, among others. Edison got into phonographs, film making and projection, iron ore milling, Portland cement, and a domestic source of rubber.

Tesla alwaysInterestingly, both had a connection to science fiction. Tesla’s friend Hugo Gernsback (after whom the science fiction Hugo Awards are named) adapted many of Tesla’s ideas and inventions in his Amazing Stories and other series. And Thomas Edison? Well, Edison began writing a science fiction novel himself, though he never quite got around to finishing it.

In 2013 I was honored to write a book about Nikola Tesla. Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity is now into its 7th printing and still selling well in Barnes and Noble stores, as well as translations around the world. This year, 2016, my new book on Thomas Edison is in the stores. Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World hit shelves in late July.

And now the battle is on. Can Edison beat out Tesla in the marketplace? Or will Tesla win the battle of the books? Frankly, I think both men – and both books – have a place in the world. Both made huge contributions to society along largely different paths. Both men are worth learning more about. I hope you’ll read both books.

Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World

Nikola Tesla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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A Quick Look at Montenegro

One of the stops on my recent trip to the Balkans was Montenegro. Sitting on the coast of the magnificent Adriatic Sea, Montenegro was once part of the former Yugoslavia, along with Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and others. Independent since 2006, Montenegro’s name comes from its mountainous geography, most notably the black shadow cast over its beautiful coastal waters by the looming mountains.

Przno, Montenegro

Our base for three days was the resort area of Pržno, near the town of Budva. Nestled into a cove surrounded by rocky ledges and pebbly beaches, the views were gorgeous. A short walk through the pine woods along the shore brings to you Sveti Stefan, a narrow islet now connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus. A home for the rich and famous, guests shell out considerable Euros to stay in one of the 50 rooms, cottages, or suites on the exclusive resort.

Sveti Stefan, Montenegro

A short drive away is the old city of Kotor with its ancient walls and narrow lanes. I’ll have more on Kotor in the future.

Kotor, Montenegro

Leaving Kotor we wiggled and waggled up the narrow switchbacks of the aptly named Lovcenske serpentine, seen below in a photo from our tour organizer, Sherry Kumar. This is only a small segment; you can see more of it in this photo.

Serpentine road Montenegro_Sherry Kumar

The trek up was harrowing, especially when we turned a corner and narrowly missed getting rammed by a car coming down. Worse, at one point near the top we were forced to back down the winding road to find a spot wide enough (barely) for a large hay-filled truck to assertively get past us. But once we got to the top (or nearly the top), the view was worth it.

Kotor, Montenegro

And there was much more – a drive through a National Park, a long climb on foot up to a famous mausoleum, and visit to the old capital of Cetinje were wrapped around a delightful lunch at a renowned restaurant in the middle of nowhere. More on all of this later.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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Now Available! Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World

Edison: The Inventor of the Modern WorldMy newest book, Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World, is now available.

You can purchase it on the Barnes and Noble website as either the hard cover book or a Nook e-book.

It will also be displayed prominently in the front of Barnes and Noble stores across the country. If you don’t see it yet, be sure to ask for it.

As with Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity, the books are expected to sell out fast so get your first edition while they last. [For Tesla fans, you can get the book for half price this month in honor of his 160th birthday]

Check out this preview of Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget you have only a week left to enter to win free copies of both Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World on Goodreads.

Nikola Tesla

Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in July 2016.

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Meeting Tesla Royalty in Serbia

I’m just back from a two week trip that took me to Nikola Tesla’s homelands in Serbia and Croatia (with Montenegro in between). Among many other other experiences I had the good fortune of meeting with what can be considered Tesla royalty (not to mention, actual royalty).

Dr. Branimir Jovanovic, Tesla Museum, Belgrade

Within hours of arrival I hiked up to the Nikola Tesla Museum to meet with the Director, Dr. Branimir Jovanovic. The museum was officially closed to the public, but Dr. Jovanovic and I had corresponded in advance and he encouraged me to stop by. Amidst an invite-only champagne reception we talked about Tesla, the museum, and the future, including the new exhibits and web site that would be launched the very next day. I presented him with a copy of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity signed and inscribed to him.

HRH Prince Alexander of Serbia

The next evening I attended a private reception of Tesla people at the Royal Palace and met HRH Crown Prince Alexander and HRH Crown Princess Katherine of Serbia. [Read here for background on the royal family and why he doesn’t use the term “King”] Prince Alexander and I  (with Tesla Science Foundation President Nikola Lonchar above) discussed ways to expand the public’s knowledge of Tesla. I offered to reach out to magazines in the U.S. and told I’m working with the Serbian Embassy in Washington DC to give a presentation at the Smithsonian Institution this fall. I also spent time talking to Princess Katherine about her many humanitarian efforts.

At the Royal Palace

While at the Palace I was introduced to another Tesla royalty of sorts, a gentleman who has published three books on Tesla in the Serbian language and who, along with Nikola Lonchar, is looking to get them translated into English. And, of course, there is the ultimate in Tesla “royalty” in William Terbo, the grandnephew of Nikola Tesla. Terbo was not in Serbian for these events (he was attending events in Canada for Tesla’s birthday), but I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Terbo on past occasions. It might sound a little saccharin to say, but it was a thrill to shake the hand of a man who shook the hand of Nikola Tesla (when Terbo was 10 years old).

I’ll have much more on this trip to Serbia and environs in the future. Before I end I have to thank Sherry Kumar for organizing the trip to Tesla’s homeland and Nikola Lonchar for his incredible leadership in helping today’s world come to know the incredible contributions of Nikola Tesla. Check back here soon for more of my travels.

Watch this space for plenty of great photos of Nikola Tesla’s heritage homelands.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget you can enter to win free copies of both Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World on Goodreads.

Nikola Tesla

Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in July 2016.

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Visiting Tesla’s Homeland – Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia

Nikola TeslaNikola Tesla was born 160 years ago at midnight of July 9th/10th. His father was a Serbian cleric; his mother the daughter and sister of Serbian clerics. In a portent of his future, Tesla came to this Earth during a lightning storm – “a child of the light” – in the little town of Smiljan, then part of the Austrian empire in what is now Croatia. This year’s birthday celebration will be held in Serbia, along with Montenegro and Croatia.

After a day in Amsterdam, Serbian Airlines will swoop us into Nikola Tesla Airport in Serbia’s capital, Belgrade. First stop is the Tesla Museum, which will be launching a virtual reality exhibition the day of my arrival. I’m looking forward to a personal tour by the new Director, Dr. Branimir Jovanovic. An updated permanent exhibit will open the next day. Also part of the Tesla celebration are an art exhibit, a conference, and an evening gala, at which an award is waiting for me in recognition of the fantastic distribution of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity. I plan to donate a copy to Dr. Jovanovi at the Museum on my arrival.

Of course, I’ll also be visiting with HRH Prince Alexander and HRH Princess Katherine of Serbia during an evening reception at the Royal Palace. When not dining with royalty I’ll be doing a walking tour of Belgrade and a day tour into the interior of Serbia, complete with castles, monasteries, and wineries.

Then it’s time to hop on Montenegro Airlines to Sveti Stefan for some of the best beaches on the Adriatic Sea on the coast of Montenegro. Over a few days we’ll see the historical capital of Cetinje, the National Park of Loveen, and the Fortress of Kotor.

From there it’s up the coast to Dubrovnik in Croatia where the plan is to spend a day on a yacht enjoying the coastline. Another day will be on foot, exploring the famed walls surrounding the city. From here we fly Croatia Airlines (have to get all three airlines into the itinerary) to Frankfurt, where we’ll explore the old city for a day before heading back home (on a fourth airline).

Watch this space for plenty of great photos of Nikola Tesla’s heritage homelands.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget you can enter to win free copies of both Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World on Goodreads.

Nikola Tesla

Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in July 2016.

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Tesla and Edison Books – Free Giveaways on Goodreads

Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison were rivals in the war of the currents. Nikola Tesla (and George Westinghouse) won that war and went on to electrify the world. Thomas Edison lost out in the AC vs DC battles, but had a productive career leading his invention factories. I’ve had the pleasure of writing about both men, and now you have a chance to read both books for free!

Nikola Tesla

In celebration of the newly released 7th printing of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity, you can enter to win a free, first edition, signed by the author, hardcover copy of the book.

Just click here to go to Goodreads and enter the contest.

 

 

 

 

Edison cover on BN

And this month also sees the release of my newest book, Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World. Like Tesla, Edison is a beautiful, fully illustrated, hardcover book featuring stories and insights. Previous biographies of Edison neglected to mention his rivalry with Tesla, so I made a point to include Tesla wherever he interacted with Edison.

Click here and enter to win one of 5 free first edition, signed by the author, hardcover copies of the book.

 

 
You can enter either free book contest – or both! The contests are open until July 27th, so be sure to enter and then pass along the information to your friends.

While you do that, I’ll be visiting Nikola Tesla’s heritage in Serbia, Montenegro, and Croatia, including the world-famous Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade. In fact, I’ll be flying into Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla Airport. I’ll be taking tons of photos of the trip and will post them here as soon as I can (and from the road if I can get wifi).

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in July 2016.

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Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach – Through the Glidepath

Ripley's Aquarium of Myrtle BeachRipley’s has become synonymous with oddities-based attractions, and you’ll find a bunch of them in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (including Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, Haunted Adventure, Moving Theater, and Marvelous Mirror Maze). But Ripley’s has also gotten into the aquarium business. Enter the glidepath at Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach.

The glidepath is Ripley’s name for their 340-foot long acrylic underwater tunnel, where you walk safely among the swimming sharks, sea turtles, sting rays, and sawfish. This aquarium is one of the rare ones with sawfish.

Ripley's Aquarium of Myrtle Beach

Sawfish would seem to fit in well with the Ripley’s oddities theme. They look a lot like sharks that have partially swallowed a chain saw, but they are technically a family of rays (like the sting rays that are numerous around them). To confuse things further, sawfish are commonly called carpenter sharks, though that name seems to suit them well. Unfortunately, sawfish are rather rare; they are considered Endangered or Critically Endangered species. Mostly they use the “saw” (technically, a rostrum) to poke around in the bottom sand for food, but they can also slash their way through schooling fish and pick up the pieces.

Sawfish, Ripley's Aquarium of Myrtle Beach

The aquarium is relatively small but does have a nice selection of the typical tropical fish common to aquariums – tangs of various colors; angelfish; triggerfish, clown fish; cichlids; damsel fish; a really cool 3-foot Arawana; barracudas; groupers; sandbar, blacktip, leopard, bonnethead, and nurse sharks; and a variety of rays. In the Amazon section they have iguanas, poison dart frogs, and piranha. Of course there are also the octopuses, horseshoe crabs, and jellyfish that are ubiquitous to aquariums. They also had a very large catfish.

Catfish, Ripley's Aquarium of Myrtle Beach

The aquarium sits at one end of a salt water pond surrounded by a variety of restaurants and other attractions. Unlike the large catfish in the aquarium, apparently the pond’s resident catfish have turned into beggars, eagerly gulping for anything edible tossed in by the touristing hordes.

More catfish, outside Ripley's Aquarium of Myrtle Beach

Overall the aquarium and area are a nice day’s visit. Easy to reach just south of the North/South Carolina border, and with plentiful parking, the aquarium is worth a visit if you’re in the area. My visit was part of a longer road trip that took us down through the center of Virginia and North Carolina, then back up through North Carolina’s Outer Banks and Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Along the way was the North Carolina Aquarium, a quaint little place on historic Roanoke Island. More on that in a future post.

See my Aquariums visited list!

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in July 2016.

Follow me by subscribing by email on the home page.  And feel free to “Like” my Facebook author’s page and connect on LinkedIn.  Share with your friends using the buttons below.