During an interview with Internet Cat Video Festival founder Scott Stulen, he explained that, though the Internet may have popularized cat videos, the phenomenon predates the Web — by a lot.
"Some of [Thomas] Edison's earliest films are of cats boxing," Stulen said. "He created this little loop that you can find on YouTube."
That little loop (which is also in the Library of Congress) was originally recorded in July 1894 at Edison's Black Maria Studio in West Orange, N.J. A grainy black-and-white clip all of 22 seconds long, it features two cats wearing shoulder harnesses that keep them standing on their back paws with boxing gloves covering their front paws. The cats (a title card refers to them as "Dr. Welton's") spar half-heartedly inside a tiny boxing ring while a well-dressed gentleman (whom we presume to be Dr. Welton) stage manages from outside the ring.
Which means that Thomas Alva Edison, a man known for inventing the phonograph, the motion picture camera and the lightbulb, also happened to invent the cat video.
Wizard of Menlo Park, indeed.