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5 Producer and Exhibitor as Co-Creators: 1897-1900
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The Edison Manufacturing Company and Its Licensees

The Edison Company's sales and profits for films and projecting kinetoscopes were generally lower from 1898 through 1900 than they had been in the


previous two years. Film sales were reduced by almost half, from $75,250 in 1897-98 to $41,207 in 1898-99, $38,991 in 1899-1900, and $49,756 in 1900-1901. Sales of projecting kinetoscopes also fell.[136] This reflected competition from several sources. Biograph contested Edison's suit for patent infringement and dominated film exhibition in first-class vaudeville houses. In the fall of 1898 it had projectors in twenty theaters across the United States.[137] In addition, its mutoscopes were quickly replacing kinetoscopes, being a more efficient peep-hole individual viewing device for moving pictures. Edison also failed to close down Sigmund Lubin, whose films were sold for less than Edison's on a per-foot basis. Moreover, Lubin shot his films at fewer frames per second. Purchasers, therefore, could show a Lubin film of equivalent length for a longer period of time. Such competition forced the Edison Company to reduce its sale price from 30¢ per foot in January 1897 to 24¢ per foot in May 1898 and 15¢ per foot by July 1898.[138] Meanwhile the quantity of footage sold remained constant or increased only slightly, resulting in a rapid falloff of gross income.

Much Edison-related film business was conducted by licensees, who captured a large share of the revenues. From 1898 to 1900, Edison was heavily dependent on these companies for new film subjects. Approximately half of the Edison-copyrighted films from this period were made by American Vitagraph and William Paley. The first Vitagraph films to be copyrighted by Thomas Edison and sold by his company were of the naval parade of August 20, 1898 (The Fleet Steaming up the North River ). These nine films were taken from a yacht and provided some of the best pictures of the flotilla. Thereafter, Blackton and Smith supplied Edison with many comedies, for example The Burglar on the Roof (made by late September but not copyrighted by Edison until December 12, 1898) and Willie's First Smoke , as well as trick films such as Vanishing Lady and Congress of Nations . They also took news films of Admiral Dewey's visit to New York (Presentation of Loving Cup at City Hall, New York ) and Washington (Presentation of Nation's Sword to Admiral Dewey ), the America's Cup, the Galveston flood (Bird's Eye View of Dock Front, Galveston ), and lesser events.

Fewer Paley films entered Edison catalogs (which does not necessarily mean that the cameraman made fewer films than Vitagraph). Automobile Parade , which he shot on Saturday, November 4, 1899, was copyrighted by Edison on February 6, 1900. Dick Crocker Leaving Tammany Hall , taken on November 18th, was copyrighted on February 9, 1900. A comedy, An Exchange of Good Stories , taken of Chauncey Depew and Marshall Wilder in early November may have entered the Edison catalog as Two Old Pals , but was never copyrighted. The Burning of the "Nutmeg State " and a news film of Sir Thomas Lipton's departure from New York on November 1st were neither copyrighted nor promoted by Edison's Kinetograph Department.[139]


While the Edison Manufacturing Company gained possession of its licensees' negatives and offered them for sale, it had little control over the selection of subject matter, the manner in which these subjects were turned into films, and even the time at which a film might be available for marketing. Vitagraph and Paley made films for use in their vaudeville theaters. Many of these were timely subjects that soon lost their commercial value. Yet these licensees generally retained original subjects for several months—as exclusives for their own exhibitions—before turning them over to Edison for copyright and sale. The Edison Company's relations with these affiliated enterprises was decentralized and informal.

The licensing arrangement perhaps benefited the licensees more than the licensor. Under the constant encouragement of William T. Rock, the third Vitagraph partner, Thomas Edison sued such unlicensed exhibitors as Eberhard Schneider and seriously disrupted their business.[140] While Edison generated some publicity that may have encouraged showmen to buy his company's products, Vitagraph acquired many of the victims' exhibition venues. Ironically, very little money from these exhibitions ever reached Edison coffers. Vitagraph took many of its own films and acquired other subjects directly from European producers. Its purchases from Edison were small and apparently did not even cover the royalties that Edison owed Vitagraph for the sale of prints from its negatives.

Edison tried to shift the commercial balance in his favor when he licensed the Klondike Exposition Company, organized by Thomas Crahan of Montana. In a contract dated March 14, 1899, Thomas Edison was to receive 20 percent of the net receipts derived from the company's exhibitions.[141] The contract also reveals the extent to which Biograph's activities were judged superior, as Edison made a commitment to a large-format motion picture system. For this venture, the "Wizard" agreed to construct two kinetographs, which took pictures 2" high and 3" wide, at the cost of $1,000. With these machines in hand, Crahan left for Alaska on June 8th.[142] He was accompanied by an Edison-designated photographic specialist, Robert Kates Bonine (1862-1923), a well-known stereo-view and lantern-slide photographer, originally from Altoona, Pennsylvania. Bonine, who established his reputation taking photographs of the Johnstown flood in 1889 and the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, had done some work for Edison in 1898.[143] Bonine also carried a still camera for lantern slides and a regular 35mm motion picture camera.[144]

The two men traveled through Alaska to Dawson City in the Yukon and then into the gold fields. Surviving films from the expedition include White Horse Rapids; Washing Gold on 20 Above Hunker, Klondike ; and Packers on the Trail (all submitted for copyright in April 1900 or May 1901). Upon their return in late October, Crahan and Edison discovered that the large-format films had poor registration. "When we project them on the screen the whole picture moves up a foot, then down six inches then up and so on," Edison explained to John


Charles Kayser at work.

Ott before asking him to make "a corrector for correcting negatives so that although the negative prints vary on the film the positives are equidistant."[145] Edison's staff tried to make such a device, but Eberhard Schneider later suggested that they were unsuccessful: "Kayser, one of Edison's inventors, made an intermittent printer, the size of a steam roller such as is used today by the New York Paving Company. The thing would not work at all, and I had to do some printing on certain films for Jim White, Edison's laboratory expert and manager in 1900."[146] By mid January the Klondike Exposition Company had expended $7,385, run out of cash, and still needed projectors and films. Edison was forced to negotiate a new arrangement, under which he supplied the necessary equipment and films. This enabled Crahan to put together three illustrated lectures entitled Artistic Glimpses of the Wonder World .[147] By June 1900 any hope Crahan had of recouping his investment and going to the Paris Exposition had ended. The Klondike Exposition Company therefore sold its equipment and film to Edison for $2,500 in cash and $2,500 in Edison goods (phonograph records, etc.).[148] The venture was a financial failure—not only for Crahan but also for the Edison Company, which posted its smallest film profits of any year in the era of projection.


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5 Producer and Exhibitor as Co-Creators: 1897-1900
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