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America Embargoes the Lumieres

The Lumiere Brothers

Little more than one year after the triumphant debut of their Cinematograph at Keithís Union Square Theatre in New York, the Lumiere Brothers' great American adventure was abruptly curtailed.   Although the success of their projector had been waning in the face of American Mutoscopeís technically superior Biograph, the death knell for the Cinematograph in the States was sounded when Congress passed the Dingley Bill on the 24th July 1897   The Bill was a basically a protectionist measure designed to defend the interests of North American manufacturers and imposed prohibitively high import taxes of up to 65%.

The American Mutoscope & Biograph Company had close ties with many of the protectionists in President William McKinleyís administration, and wasted no time in using the new Bill to their advantage.   Almost as soon as the Bill was passed, they lodged a formal complaint against the Lumiere Company for violation of customs regulations, claiming the Cinematograph was brought into the United States without the formal authorisation it required.   The Lumieres suddenly found themselves facing a whole raft of lawsuits, and Lumiere projectionist Felix Mesguich claimed he was arrested for filming in Central Park without a permit.

Fearing further penalties, at dawn on the 28th of July, Mesguich and a M. Lafont, the Head of Operations in America for the Lumieres, sailed a dinghy off the Hudson Estuary, where they were picked up by a French ship which immediately set sail for France, and the Lumiereís operations in America came to an immediate end.   Their departure was a victory for the protectionists, and is arguably a major reason for the worldwide dominance of American movies throughout the world more than a century later. [ADD]

Further Reading:





USA: 1896-1900



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