The MoviesWhile working on the phonograph, Edison began working on a device that, "does for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear", this was to become motion pictures. Edison first demonstrated motion pictures in 1891, and began commercial production of "movies" two years later in a peculiar looking structure, built on the laboratory grounds, known as the Black Maria.
Like the electric light and phonograph before it, Edison developed a complete system, developing everything needed to both film and show motion pictures. Edison's initial work in motion pictures was pioneering and original. However, many people became interested in this third new industry Edison created, and worked to further improve on Edison's early motion picture work. There were therefore many contributors to the swift development of motion pictures beyond the early work of Edison. By the late 1890s, a thriving new industry was firmly established, and by 1918 the industry had become so competitive that Edison got out of the movie business all together.
Even a Genius Can have a Bad DayThe success of the phonograph and motion pictures in the 1890s helped offset the greatest failure of Edison's career. Throughout the decade Edison worked in his laboratory and in the old iron mines of northwestern New Jersey to develop methods of mining iron ore to feed the insatiable demand of the Pennsylvania steel mills. To finance this work, Edison sold all his stock in General Electric. Despite ten years of work and millions of dollars spent on research and development, Edison was never able to make the process commercially practical, and lost all the money he had invested. This would have meant financial ruin had not Edison continued to develop the phonograph and motion pictures at the same time. As it was, Edison entered the new century still financially secure and ready to take on another challenge.