1903 Timelines: 1900 to 1909

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.


Significant Films:

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.



The Picture Show Man website was established in 2004 to be a comprehensive and free resource for anyone interested in vintage movies. Our focus is the history of motion pictures from the beginning of its development in 1890, to the end of 1960.

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