Other title: Boxing cats
Running time: 00m 22s
Source film: 35mm; b&w; silent
Director: William K.L. Dickson
Cast: Henry Welton
Production: Thomas A. Edison; Edison Manufacturing Co., Black Maria Studio
Photography/Camera: William Heise
As far as inventor loyalties go, I’ve always considered myself part of Team Tesla rather than Camp Alva Edison, but one can’t argue the progress made at Edison’s Black Maria Studio in the early days of the moving image. (Ignore the fact that the earliest motion picture camera was likely engineered not by Edison, but by his employee, William K.L. Dickson; while you’re at it, strike Eadweard Muybridge from your memory too). In just a year’s time after the studio’s construction in West Orange, New Jersey, Edison and his cohorts were pumping out films of dancers, sneezes, and even cockfights, all of which clocked in at well under 60 seconds. Among these early films was 1894’s The Boxing Cats (Prof. Welton’s) — known more simply as Boxing Cats — which modern media outlets have come to recognize as “The Film Demonstrating That Our Freakish Obsession with Cat Videos Transcends Time and Space.”
The film itself is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s roughly 20 seconds of domestic cats (wearing tiny gloves) pawing and poking at each other in a tiny boxing ring as a mustachioed figure occasionally re-positions them. We can reasonably infer that this man is the titular Professor Welton, a vaudeville player who probably wasn’t even a real professor! His other credited appearances in Black Maria films included cock fights and dog-wrestling, so it’s unlikely he’ll receive any posthumous PETA awards.
This film — part of several conceptual collections at the Library of Congress, including American Memory and Inventing Entertainment — is more of a technical demo than anything else, but it’s a compelling historical object as evidence of our collective joy over felines in film. Humans are so weird.
- Edison’s Black Maria (Wikipedia)
- The Boxing Cats (Prof. Welton’s) (1894) (Cinema Cats)
- Thomas Edison’s Boxing Cats (1894), or Where the LOLCats All Began (Josh Jones, Open Culture)
- Thomas Edison a.k.a. The Movie Mogul Who Started LOLcats (Leah Binkovitz, Smithsonian.com)