How Bella Was Won.


Great Train Robbery.

Back to the Woods.

Bray Studiios.

Broncho Billy.

Tim McCoy.

Play Ball.

The Penalty.

Tom Mix.

Way Down East.

One Arabian Night.

The Kid.

Max Linder.

Nanook of the North.

Theda Bara.


Vitagraph Theatre.

The Imposible Mrs Bellew.

Bright Eyes.

The Thief of Bagdad.

The Alaskan.

Peter Pan.

Hunchback of Notre Dame.

His New Mamma.


A Brief Overview of the Decade

Even before Queen Victoria died in 1901, the first decade of the new century was already challenging the old assumptions and old philosophies of the Victorian Age. In 1900 Sigmund Freud published his book, "The Interpretation of Dreams", which challenged the way people interpreted human motivations. Frank Lloyd Wright reinterpreted architecture; Max Planck introduced Quantum Physics; Albert Einstein introduced his Special Theory of Relativity; Isadora Duncan reinterpreted dance; and the painters Picasso and Braque introduced Cubism.

The Wright Brothers successfully flew their airplane in 1903, and by 1909 the French aviator, Louis Bleriot, became the first flyer to cross the English Channel. Marconi sent a wireless message more than 1800 miles across the Atlantic Ocean; Commander Peary made it to the North Pole; the Trans-Siberian Railway was completed; and Jack Johnson became the first black boxer to hold the Heavyweight Champion of the World title.

Although many people were humming the hit song "In My Merry Oldsmobile" during the middle of the decade, by 1908 Henry Ford introduced the sturdy, inexpensive "Model T", making it finally possible for the masses to own an automobile. Into this exciting mix "Nickelodeons" were introduced in 1905, an inexpensive outlet that allowed motion pictures to evolve from being a mere curiosity to become the entertainment of choice for the working classes. A little over two years later there were almost 9,000 Nickelodeons in operation in the U.S.


History of Motion Pictures

Significant Films

Picture Show Man Articles


The actualities (scenes of daily life), the news events (both real and reconstructed), and the worn-out dramatic and comic situations that have become the standard fare of film exhibitions, begin to bore audiences. Attendance at the showing of motion pictures begins to fall.

Due to the cheaper competition from exhibition services using the "standard" 35mm film format, Biograph finds it harder to convince vaudeville theatres to use its projectors that require films using its wider 70mm film gauge. Biograph lowers its fees, and its profits tumble.

Edison hires Edwin S. Porter as a cameraman, and within a year promotes him to the position of Director of Production. Porter's editing innovations change the way stories are told on film, and in 1903 he releases "The Great Train Robbery" which becomes the most commercially successful American film made up to that time.

The French film company, Pathè Frères, releases, "Episodes of the Transvaal War", which is a film of a "reconstructed" news event.

Nitrate Film - A Major Problem in Movie Restoration.

The “Academy” Ratio – The Shape of Movies Before 1953

The "Latham Loop" - A Loop of Film that Freed an Industry.



The French film company, Pathè Frères, hires Ferdinand Zecca to be its head of film production. Within a year the number of Pathè releases surpasses the output of the popular French producer, Georges Méliès.

An organization of vaudeville performers, the "White Rats of America", go on strike forcing many more vaudeville theatres to show motion pictures to fill their bills.

Thomas Edison wins his patent-infringement suit against the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company. Biograph immediately appeals the ruling to a higher court.

Edison introduces a new projector that can take up 1,000 feet of film on a single reel. He also builds a new movie studio in the heart of New York City that is enclosed in glass and can be used year-round.

Pathè releases, "The Story of a Crime", which is stopped before its last scene is shown so that women and children can leave. The last scene shows the "terrifying" fall of a guillotine's blade.

Nitrate Film - A Major Problem in Movie Restoration.

The “Academy” Ratio – The Shape of Movies Before 1953

The "Latham Loop" - A Loop of Film that Freed an Industry.



In Los Angeles Thomas L. Tally's Electric Theatre becomes the first permanent movie theatre in the U.S.

The Edison patent infringement suit against Biograph is overturned by the circuit court of appeals. Edison's key motion picture patents were declared invalid, terminating all of Edison's lawsuits for patent infringement. Within months Edison refines his motion picture patents and sues Biograph again.





In England James Williamson releases the film, "Fire", which is the first movie to meaningfully combine indoor studio scenes with outdoor shots.

The Edison Company makes, "Life of an American Fireman", which is the first time an American film attempted to portray a character's thoughts.

Méliès releases his most remarkable film to date. "Voyage Dans La Lune" (A Trip to the Moon), consists of 10 scenes played out on 30 sets.


Nitrate Film - A Major Problem in Movie Restoration.

The “Academy” Ratio – The Shape of Movies Before 1953

The "Latham Loop" - A Loop of Film that Freed an Industry.



The courts rule that a film does not have to be copyrighted frame-by-frame, but rather that it can be covered in its entirety by one copyright submission.

The motion picture industry is revived by the growing popularity of "story films". Although these story films are more expensive to make than "actualities" (scenes of daily life) and records of news events, they can now be protected by copyright law and they begin to be produced in great numbers. Eventually they overtake, and then surpass, the production of actualities and other documentary-style films.

The number of vaudeville theaters that show films as a permanent feature of their programs begins to sharply increase.

Georges Méliès, the French film-maker, sends his brother to the U.S. to open a distribution office for his films. Because of the popularity of Méliès films they are being illegally copied and sold by almost all of the U.S. motion picture exhibition services.

Biograph builds an indoor studio in New York City that is the first motion picture studio to rely exclusively on artificial light.

Biograph switches to the "standard" 35mm film gauge for its productions, and improves its projectors by using a three-blade shutter.

As films became easier to show, the production/distribution/exhibition companies begin to leave the exhibition of their products to others. The theater thus becomes the exhibiter, renting (instead of buying) its films from an "exchange" that, in turn, buys its films from the production companies.

Pathè introduces stencil-colored prints of its films. The process is eventually automated and becomes a company trademark.

The Edison Company releases, "Uncle Tom's Cabin". An example of "filmed theater", this 15-minute film prefaced each scene with a title on the film that helped the audience follow the story. Before this, exhibitors had inserted their own "title slides" if an explanation was needed.

The Edison Company's films, "Rube and Mandy at Coney Island " and "A Romance of the Rail", combine a story film with scenes from their travelogues.

Biograph's, "The Escaped Lunatic", was the fist American film to be structured around the chase.

"The Great Train Robbery", made for the Edison Company by Edison's Director of Production, Edwin S. Porter, becomes America's single most popular film until 1912. Demonstrating that it is possible to show events happening at identical times but in different places without breaking the continuity of the plot, it is a story-driven film that is the first true Western.



Films From the Past: "The Great Train Robbery".

Nitrate Film - A Major Problem in Movie Restoration.

The “Academy” Ratio – The Shape of Movies Before 1953

The "Latham Loop" - A Loop of Film that Freed an Industry.



The French motion picture company, Pathè Frères (referred to as Pathè), sets up an office in New York City to protect and distribute its films. Their films, which cover a wide range of subjects and genres, prove to be so popular in the U.S. that the Edison Company buys prints and distributes duplicates.

The 35mm-film width, and a projection speed of 16 frames per second, are now accepted as an industry standard.

The films made by Méliès decline in popularity because he does not adapt to the public's interest in new subjects.

Biograph copyrights its film, "The Moonshiner", with narrative titles (called "intertitles") already included in the film. All of their subsequent fiction "feature" films (story films) will include intertitles.

Biograph's film, "Personal", is perhaps the first movie to include a chase scene played for laughs.



Nitrate Film - A Major Problem in Movie Restoration.

The “Academy” Ratio – The Shape of Movies Before 1953

The "Latham Loop" - A Loop of Film that Freed an Industry.



Edison hires some of Biograph's most creative talent. Production at Biograph is seriously disrupted.

Biograph loses the motion picture contract for the Keith Vaudeville Circuit to the Kinetograph Company. The Kinetograph film exchange is associated with Edison

The Edison Company commits to making more story films that are original and not mere copies of other company's films.

The Vitagraph Company of American begins renting its films to exchanges instead of selling them outright, and commits heavily to story films. They promptly establish themselves as a major American producer.

The Miles Brothers' film rental company begins to advertise a regular semiweekly change of films for their customers.

Harry Davis, a wealthy vaudeville theatre owner, opens a storefront theater in Pittsburgh for the showing of motion pictures. He calls it the "Nickelodeon" because a person can see an entire program of films, which lasts ten to thirty minutes, for a nickel. Similar storefront theaters quickly began to spring up in every city and town creating a "nickel craze", and within two years there will be almost 9,000 Nickelodeons in operation in the U.S. showing programs that last up to one hour.

The Warner Brothers open their first Nickelodeon, called the Cascade Theatre, in New Castle, Pennsylvania

The Hepworth Manufacturing Company, Ltd., in England releases the film, "Rescued By Rover". It is notable for its energetic and creative editing, and for ensuring that the action moved across the screen in a consistent direction.

The Edison Company's film, "The Whole Dam family and the Dam Dog", cleverly combines live-action comedy and graphics.

The Fengtai Photo Studio in Beijing, China, releases an opera film titled "Conquer Jun Mountain (Ding Jun shan)". This is the first film ever produced in China by Chinese filmmakers.

Nitrate Film - A Major Problem in Movie Restoration.

The “Academy” Ratio – The Shape of Movies Before 1953

The "Latham Loop" - A Loop of Film that Freed an Industry.



The Keith organization begins converting vaudeville theatres into "nickel" motion picture houses. Their first picture house seats 1,000 people and clears $800 to $1,000 per week. They encourage parents to send their children to these nickel theaters after school is over.

Chicago becomes a center for the motion picture exchanges that supply films for the new Nickelodeons. The Nickelodeons seek to change their programs three to six times a week. Within a year fifteen Chicago exchanges will control 80% of the film rental business in the U.S.

Carl Laemmle, who owns two Chicago Nickelodeons, becomes dissatisfied with the companies supplying him with films. He decides to open his own film exchange, attracting customers by offering good-quality prints, fresh subjects, and "service". Within three years The Laemmle Film Service would be known as "the largest in the world."

To show ownership of its films, some exchange companies begin to put their name on the main title of a film.

Edison projectors, selling for $135 each, generate over $182,000 in sales. This is a 131% increase over the previous year's sales.

The Vitagraph Company of America builds a $25,000 movie studio in Brooklyn.

The shortage of American films opens up tremendous opportunities for foreign producers. Pathè Frères' productions account for one third of the films shown in the U.S.

Siegmund Lubin, a Polish immigrant who had established a successful film production studio in Philadelphia, assumes ownership of a nickelodeon. He quickly begins building a chain of picture houses that allows him to become the first movie producer to control a film's production, distribution, and exhibition in a vertically integrated business model.

An Australian film, "The Story of the Kelly Gang", is over one hour long and becomes the world's first true "Feature Film".

Vitagraph releases, "Humorous Phases of a Funny Face", one of the first animated cartoons.

The Edison Company's film, "The Paymaster", filmed by G.W. "Billy" Bitzer (who would eventually film all of D.W. Griffith's most important movies), sets a new standard for the creative use of available light.

Films From the Past: "Humorous Phases of a Funny Face".

Nitrate Film - A Major Problem in Movie Restoration.

The “Academy” Ratio – The Shape of Movies Before 1953

The "Latham Loop" - A Loop of Film that Freed an Industry.



The Kalem Film Company and the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company are formed.

Edison projector sales generate over $418,000 in sales. This is a 130% increase over the previous year's sales.

After losing many of its most creative people, and being unable to make the interest payments on its loans, Biograph is in a state of profound crisis. Jeremiah Kennedy is hired to be the new company president, and he starts to reorganize the company by laying-off many of the company's employees.

David Wark Griffith (D.W. Griffith) begins working as an actor for the Edison Company after he fails to sell them a play he has written. He is paid $5 a day.

Vitagraph emerges as the leading American movie producer, with a repertoire of fast-paced, energetic films. The company establishes a stock company of actors, and begins assigning a director to each film unit who is responsible for the work of the cameraman.

Pathè's cinema division in France has over 1,200 employees, most of whom are involved in splicing and coloring prints. The company seeks to control every aspect of film production, distribution and exhibition, even making and selling its own cameras and projectors. One French newspaper claims that "within a matter of months a film produced by Pathè Frères would be seen by 300 million people around the world."

Pathè announces it will no longer sell its films in France, but rather rent them in weekly programs for a fixed percentage of exhibitor receipts.

The Warner Brothers open their own film exchange called the "Duquesne Amusement Supply Company" in a suburb of Pittsburgh.

Nickelodeon attendance surpasses two million per week, while movies are denounced by churches and the press for inciting criminal behavior.

"The Runaway Sleighbelle", becomes the Kalem Company's first film. Their films, which are mostly comedies, are noted for their elaborate intertitles that include cartoons as well as text.

"Lightning Sketches", is one of a number of Vitagraph films that use innovative object-animation and stop-motion techniques.

Nitrate Film - A Major Problem in Movie Restoration.

The “Academy” Ratio – The Shape of Movies Before 1953

The "Latham Loop" - A Loop of Film that Freed an Industry.



Biograph buys the patent rights to the "Latham Loop".

D.W. Griffith is hired to be a film director by Biograph. Between 1908 and 1913 Griffith will direct over 450 movies for Biograph.

Griffith hires the young actress, Florence Lawrence, to be the leading lady in his films at Biograph. Lawrence is offered $25 a week.

Responding to the exhausting conditions that the Nickelodeon projectionists operate under, the "Motion Picture Machine Operators" union is formed. It is the first union in the motion picture industry.

Under pressure from the film producers, the major film exchanges join forces and form the Film Service Association (FSA). Although the stated purpose of the association is, in part, to eliminate old, worn films that are giving the industry a bad name, the real purpose is to increase the profits of the Edison-licensed film production companies.

The Biograph film, "The Adventures of Dollie", is D.W. Griffith's first film as a director.



Nitrate Film - A Major Problem in Movie Restoration.

The “Academy” Ratio – The Shape of Movies Before 1953

The "Latham Loop" - A Loop of Film that Freed an Industry.


The Motion Picture Patents Company (MPPC) is formed and becomes a holding company for all of the patents belonging to the film producers who are members. (It is also known as the "Edison Trust".) Members of this Trust, which include all of the major film producers of the time including Pathè, Edison and Biograph, agree to share their various machine and film patents, and to keep all other parties and machines out of the film business. They enforce this by agreeing not to sell or lease to any exchange that buys a film from any non-MPPC company. Therefore, any exchange that wishes to handle any MPPC film cannot handle any other company's films. In addition, George Eastman's company, which produces over 80% of the film stock used for commercial films, agrees to sell perforated raw film stock to only MPPC members.

Exchange members of the FSA are forced to sign a new license agreement with the MPPC, or lose access to the films produced by the members of the MPPC.

Every theater showing films is required to pay $2 a week to the MPPC for a license.

The MPPC agrees to submit its films to The Board of Censorship (later called the National Board of Censorship) that has been established by the distinguished People's Institute of New York City. The MPPC hopes that this self-censorship will set film content standards for state and local censorship actions, and will curb their inconsistencies. In 1915 this board will become The National Board of Review.

The "Trust War" begins when the owners of two exchanges, William Swanson of Chicago and Carl Laemmle of New York, decide to "go independent", breaking with the MPPC. To obtain films Laemmle, along with William Fox who also owns an exchange and is a theater owner, become film producers buying their film stock from English and French companies. Laemmle's company, the Independent Motion Picture Company (IMP), will eventually become Universal Pictures, and William Fox's company will become 20th Century Fox. By the end of the year, 39 "independent" exchanges will join forces and form "The National Independent Moving Picture Alliance".

Some independent film-makers begin filming in California to more easily evade the MPPC, which is headquartered in New York.

Mary Pickford begins to work as an actress for D.W. Griffith at Biograph.

Biograph's, "Her First Biscuits", is Mary Pickford's first film.



Nitrate Film - A Major Problem in Movie Restoration.

The “Academy” Ratio – The Shape of Movies Before 1953

The "Latham Loop" - A Loop of Film that Freed an Industry.


return to top of page



Home | About | Timeline | Articles | Q&A | Recommendations | Festivals/Events | Movie Clichés | Contact | Links | Movies | Quiz
Copyright 2004 to 2006 Key Light Enterprises, LLC. Contact the Picture Show Man.