Sarah 2According to the book Media and Culture: An Introduction to Mass Communication by Campbell, Martin and Fabos (2013), “nickelodeons are a form of movie theater whose name combines the admission price with the Greek word for theater” (p.192). The first nickelodeon was introduced in 1905 in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania by Harry Davis and pioneered in America by John P. Harris. The nickelodeon set up the first cinema that the public could attend and watch a moving picture. (Campbell et al. 2013)

McNulty (2005) gives insight on how Harry Davis transformed a work shop into a theater of 96 seats and charged each patron 15 cents. The first day that the nickelodeon was played 450 people attended the film, by the second day more than 1,500 people attended the film. From 1907 to 1909 nickelodeon films grew from 5,000 to 10,000. (A. Ed. 2009)

sarah 1According to Thompson and Bordwell’s Film History (2009) “By 1905, films were showing in most of the available vaudeville houses, local theaters, and other venues” (p.26). The rapid multiplication of film theaters was the main trend in the American film industry from 1905-1907. Programs normally running fifteen to sixty minutes, normally using only one projector to showcase the film. (Thompson and Bordwell, 2009). According to Thompson and Bordwell (2009) “Movie going became less a novelty and more a regular entertainment” (p. 26). The front of the theaters were normally decorated with hand-made signs with the names of the films being shown that day and evening. While inside spectators usually sat on benches or in simple wooden seats. (Thompson and Bordwell, 2009)

Nickelodeons are responsible for the success of major names in media including The Warner brother gained success by starting as nickelodeon exhibitors. According to Thompson and Bordwell (2009) “The Cascade Theater in Newcastle, Pennsylvania was the first nickelodeon acquired by Jack, Albert, Sam and Harry Warner” (p.27). Continuing their careers in exhibition and production, eventually establishing Warner Bros. The founder of Universal, Carl Laemmle opened his first nickelodeon in Chicago in 1906. Louis B. Mayer, the second M of MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) had a small theater in Haverhill., Massachusetts. Adolph Zukor started out running nickelodeons and later became the head of Paramount. William Fox who also started out by running a nickelodeon formed the company now known as 20th Century Fox and Marcus Loew’s was the parent company of MGM. (Thompson and Bordwell, 2009).

Nickelodeons helped to create the basic structure of the Hollywood studio system during the 1910s. These theaters gave names to those with little money, and many times immigrants considering the minimal investment that had to take place. According to the University of Minnesota Libraries Understanding Media and Culture: An Introduction to Mass Communication (2010) “It was the nickelodeon’s popularity that established film as a mass entertainment medium” (p.1)

Industry control as we see it today owes its success to the nickelodeon era. There were often heated disputes among companies over patent rights and industry control. The 10 leading companies in the nickelodeon industry were so frightened by the lack of control, they formed Motion Picture Patents Company (MPPC) in 1908 (University of Minnesota Libraries, 2010). The MPPC trade group served the purpose to pool the most significant motion picture patents which then established an exclusive patent between the large companies and Eastman Kodak Company to stock film.  The MPPC’s goal was to shut out competition and standardize the industry through monopolistic control (University of Minnesota Libraries, 2010). The great start for large companies that are seen today, are due to the nickelodeon times, where the control of power in the film industry was started.


Campbell, R., & Martin, C.R., & Fabos, B. (2013) Media & culture: An introduction to mass communication. Boston, MA: Bedford/St.Martin’s Staff. (2009) First nickelodeon opens. Retrieved from

Mcnulty, T. (2005). You saw it here first: Pittsburgh’s nickelodeon introduced the moving picture theater to the masses in 1905. Retrieved from

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. (2017). Nickelodeon. Retrieved from

Thompson, K., & Bordwell, D ( 2009) Film history: An introduction third edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill

[Author removed at request of original publisher], M. (2016). Understanding media and culture: An introduction to mass communication. Retrieved from

Image Attribution: The images used in this post is in the Public Domain

Written by Sarah Cataldo, 2017