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Inventing Motion Pictures

Black Maria

"The Great Train Robbery"




Coloring Book Pages (pdf):


Thomas Edison





"The Great Train Robbery"
June 2002

The closing of the Black Maria did not spell the end for the movie industry in New Jersey. Thanks to its varied landscapes, New Jersey provided a great setting for many kinds of movies.

The most popular among New Jersey films was "The Great Train Robbery." (Watch the movie online.) Edison's cameraman Edwin S. Porter directed and filmed the landmark western. Porter, considered the "father of American story film," shot the ten-minute, 14-scene movie in various New Jersey locations including Paterson. It was the most popular and commercially successful film of its time.

The film was quite different from other movies. Edison had been filming everyday events such as snowstorms. Porter convinced Edison people would flock to the theaters to see a story on film. Porter was the first director to use close-ups and edit film to create suspense.

Porter and a group of local actors headed for the wilds of New Jersey to shoot the film. The plot was inspired by a true event that occurred on August 29, 1900, when four members of Butch Cassidy's "Hole in the Wall" gang halted a train on the Union Pacific Railroad tracks in Wyoming. The bandits blew up the safe in the mail car to escape with about $5,000 in cash before a posse arrested them.

The ending of the film was most exciting to viewers. A gun was pointed straight at the audience and fired right in their faces to startle them. The scene never failed to send viewers in the front row diving for cover.

With the popularity of narrative films soaring, movie stars were born. Fort Lee became the home to many of the first movie stars. Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Pearl White, and Harold Lloyd all performed and lived in Fort Lee.

However, World War I spelled the end of the movie industry in New Jersey. Soon almost all movies were made in Hollywood. In recent years though, the film industry has come back to New Jersey, as it is no longer as necessary to shoot all movies in a central location.

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