Pronounced "ma-RYE-ah," this was a slang term for police wagons in the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries. It became the nickname of the first motion picture studio, because of its resemblance to said wagons. The Black Maria was a tar-paper-covered building on the grounds of Thomas Edison's laboratory at West Orange, New Jersey, designed and built by his "mucker" William Kennedy Laurie Dickson. The roof cranked open to admit the sunlight necessary for filming, and the entire structurerotated on a track to follow the sun.
Dickson, assisted by William Heisse, filmed the first true motion pictures in the building. He later said, "I had to do my best to secure attractive subjects for the Kinetoscopes. No earthly stage has ever gathered within its precincts a more incongruous crew of actors." Some of the acts he filmed included: "Trick Dog Teddy... Madame Bertoldi, contortionist... Colonel Cody's (Buffalo Bill's) Shooting Skill... Colonel Cody and his Sioux Indians... Texan Cowboy Throwing Lassoes... Mexican Knife Thrower... Japanese Dancers." Each film was between 16 and 60 seconds long.