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15/5/1897: The Movies' First Mogul

Siegmund Lubin

One of America’s first movie moguls entered the industry in 1897, and quickly built an unrivalled empire that lasted for less than two decades and had expired within four years of Hollywood becoming established as the country’s movie-making capital.   Siegmund “Pop” Lubin was born in Breslau in Germany in 1851, and emigrated to the States in 1876.   He embarked on a variety of occupations, even attempting gold prospecting for a while, before falling back on his training as an optician to sell eyeglasses in Philadelphia.

Lubin’s knowledge of optical lenses led to an interest in photography, and in 1896 he bought a Jenkins camera and made a film of his horse eating hay which he chose to call, with unparalleled imagination, Horse Eating Hay.   Lubin’s next project was the building of his own projector and camera (with help from Jenkins), which he called the Cineograph.   This he then sold from January 1897 at a price of $150.   In February, he became an agent for Edison and formed the Cineograph Exhibition Service.   It wasn’t long, however, before Lubin was competing directly with Edison.   He began producing films (many of them dupes – copies – of Edison’s own movies) for peep-show exhibition on the 15th May with a film called Unveiling of the Washington Monument, an actuality of President McKinley unveiling the monument in Fairmont Park, Philadelphia.   Another early film was of his daughters enjoying a pillow fight.

Lubin scored a considerable coup when he restaged the Corbett-Fitzsimmons fight, using a couple of freight handlers from the Philadelphia railroad as stand-ins for the real boxers.   The film was a great success and Lubin filmed further staged fights on the rooftop of a building he rented in the Philadelphia’s red light district. Spectators were paid one dollar each to stand on the roof and cheer on the fighters. [ADD]

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USA: 1896-1900



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