Celebrating the History of Motion Pictures from 1890 to 1960


History of Motion Pictures

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.


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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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