How Thomas Edison (Accidentally) Created Hollywood |History of Hollywood|
but it wasn’t always that way; In fact, for the first 20 years of the American film business, Hollywood was just any agriculture village without a studio in sight. In this article, we’re gonna see how Thomas Edison inadvertently transformed the village into the Global movie Power House that we know today.
At the dawn of the 20th century, the people of Hollywood were growing citrus trees. The center of the film industry wasn’t New York either, nor any other city in America. Instead, that title belonged to Paris, where the two biggest studios alone were distributing twice as many films in the US as all the American Studios combined. Ironically, even though America played a huge part in the development of film Technology, in terms of actually making movies the US was practically a backwater and this was not by chance, but by design. You see, the first decade of the 20th century saw a massive battle for the future of the American movie business: a battle of patents.
First Hollywood Studio and the Battle of Patents
Thomas Edison was the most powerful participant: in 1893 he had built America’s first movie studio and he held many of the most important patents for Motion Picture cameras and projectors. Using this vast resources, Edison would buy up movie patents by the dozens and he would file lawsuits against pretty much anyone who dared to compete with him. Edison’s approach was so successful that throughout the 1890s the American movie industry was effectively his company.
Edison Vs Competitors
The one competitor who had the pocket to oppose Edison’s litigation: a company known as Biograph, which had invented the different camera for the one covered by Edison’s patents. As Nickelodeon spread across America from 1905 onwards, Edison’s Studio became the second biggest one in America, behind only Biograph. It produced over 1000 movies in its first 10 years, including what is almost certainly the first cat video in existence.
At one point, however, Edison’s camera started becoming too successful: new Studios were emerging to capture, the immense profits to be had in the Nickelodeon business faster than Edison could sue them.
1908 – Bringing all the Studios Together
In 1908, Thomas Edison decided to switch strategies: instead of trying to sue everyone, Edison would bring all the Studios together to create one single entity that would dominate the entire industry. By pooling all their patents and connections the movie studios could ensure that no one would challenge them and unsurprisingly, almost everyone backed Edison in this proposal. The motion picture patents company came to encompass all the big names of American film. In addition, it secured total control over the Nickelodeon business.
The Film Trust
The film trust, as it came to be known, started charging Nickelodeon theatre for everything: in the past, Nickelodeon could outright buy movies from the studios, but now they could only rent them. On top of that, they had to pay a licensing fee for every projector and $2 a week for the theater itself. The Nickelodeon, of course, had no choice: they could either pay the fees or have no movies to show. But some of the theaters Went with a third option: they started importing movies from Europe.
Now, during the patent Battles in America, European cinema had matured significantly. Feature-length films were becoming increasingly popular in Paris. And from there they made their way to America, where they actually became big hits.
The Film Trust Vs Filmmakers
Pretty soon some Studio executives were trying to make feature films of their own, but there was one big problem. The film trust would not allow them. In the eyes of the film trust, feature-length films were a competitor to their Nickelodeon shorts. Which is why Edison was fully against them. Now, because the film trust was based out of the east coast, anyone who wanted to make movies” illegally” had to move as far away from there as they reasonably could. The West Coast and specially Los Angeles became the destination of choice for renegade movie makers seeking to usurp Edison’s monopoly.
Los Angeles had several benefits that made it very attractive. It was connected by the rail to the east coast where are all the technology was coming from, and yet it was also just about hundred miles from the Mexican border, where any film producer could hide their equipment in case Edison successfully sued them. Of course, the renegade producers weren’t exactly flush with cash, so they didn’t buy land in LA itself, but rather in a small town on the outskirts where land was cheap: Hollywood. It is there in 1912 that four studios first began their quest in bringing the feature-length film to America. You can see how successful they were in this chart: from 1912 onwards the young Hollywood movie industry expanded at an incredible pace.
As the studios grew in power they started fighting back. In 1915, they supported antitrust prosecution by the US government, which deemed the Film Trust to be an illegal monopoly and ordered it to be broken up. With the East Coast monopoly gone, Hollywood was free to take over the movie industry. Not just in America, but in Europe as well, where the First World War had decimated local film production. Of course, Thomas Edison didn’t really care all that much about this missed opportunity. He was never really into filmmaking, always more on the technological side of things.
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