American Mutoscope and Biograph Company

American Mutoscope and Biograph Company

The American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, was a motion picture company founded in 1895 and active until 1928. It was the first company in the United States devoted entirely to film production and exhibition, and for two decades was one of the most prolific, releasing over three thousand short films and twelve feature films. [cite book
title = The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures Produced in the United States: Film Beginnings, 1893–1910 — A Work in Progress: v. A
author = Elias Savada (Editor)
publisher = Scarecrow Press
id = ISBN 0-8108-3021-3
] [cite book
first = Einar
last = Lauritzen
coauthors = Lundquist, Gunnar
title = American Film-Index 1908–1915: Motion Pictures, July 1908–December 1915
location= Stockholm | publisher=Film-Index
others = distributed by Akademiebokhandeln, University of Stockholm
year = 1976
id = ISBN 91-7410-001-7

A new corporation with the same name was incorporated in California in 1991.cite web
url =
title = California Secretary of State - California Business Search - Corporation Search Results
accessdate = 2007-04-13
date = 2007-04-06


The company was started by William Kennedy Dickson, an inventor at Thomas Edison's laboratory who helped pioneer the technology of capturing moving images on film. Dickson left Edison and joined with inventors Herman Casler, Henry Marvin and businessman Elias Koopman to incorporate the American Mutoscope Company in New Jersey in December 1895. The firm manufactured the Mutoscope, and made flip-card movies for it, as a rival to Edison’s Kinetoscope for individual “peep shows”, making the company Edison’s chief competitor in the nickelodeon market. In the summer of 1896 the Biograph projector was released, offering superior image quality to Edison’s Vitascope projector. The company soon became a leader in the film industry, with distribution and production subsidiaries around the world including the British Mutoscope Company. In 1899 it changed its name to the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, and in 1909 to simply the Biograph Company. [cite book
first = Anthony
last = Slide
title = The New Historical Dictionary of the American Film Industry
location = Lanham, Maryland
publisher = Scarecrow Press
year = 1998
id = ISBN 0-8108-3426-X

To avoid violating Edison’s motion picture patents, Biograph cameras from 1895 to 1902 used a large-format film measuring 2-23/32 inches (68 mm) wide, with an image area of 2 × 2½ inches, four times that of Edison’s 35 mm format. The camera used friction feed, instead of Edison’s sprocket feed, to guide the film to the aperture. The camera itself punched a sprocket hole on each side of the frame as the film was exposed at 30 frames per second. [cite journal
url =
title = The Biograph Camera
journal = The Operating Cameraman
publisher = Society of Camera Operators
issue = Spring 1995
author = Billy Bitzer
accessdate = 2004-11-30
] [cite book
first = Charles
last = Musser
title = The Emergence of Cinema: The American Screen to 1907
location = Berkeley, California
publisher = University of California Press
year = 1994
pages = 303-313
id = ISBN 0-520-08533-7
] A patent case victory in March 1902 allowed Biograph and other producers and distributors to use the less expensive 35 mm format without an Edison license, although Biograph did not completely phase out 68 mm production until autumn of 1903. [cite web
url =
title = Continued Legal Battles
work = A Guide to Motion Picture Catalogs by American Producers and Distributors
publisher = Rutgers University
] Biograph offered prints in both formats to exhibitors until 1905, when it discontinued the larger format. [cite book
first = Tom
last = Gunning
title = D.W. Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film: The Early Years at Biograph
publisher = University of Illinois Press
month = December 12
year = 1993
page = 88
id = ISBN 0-252-06366-X
url =
Accessed via Google Print.
] [cite book
first = Siva
last = Vaidhyanathan
title = Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How It Threatens Creativity
publisher = New York University Press
month = April 1
year = 2003
id = ISBN 0-8147-8807-6
url =
pages = 88
"Accessed via Google Print".

Biograph films before 1903 were mostly “actualities”: documentary footage of actual persons, places and events, each film usually less than two minutes long. The occasional narrative film, usually a comedy, was typically shot in one scene, with no editing. Spurred on by competition from Edison and British and European producers, Biograph production from 1903 onward was increasingly dominated by narratives. As the stories became more complex, the films became longer, with multiple scenes to tell the story, although an individual scene was still usually presented in one shot without editing. Biograph's production of actualities ended by 1908 in favor of the narrative film.

With the increased reliance on narrative films, Biograph moved in 1903 from its rooftop studio on Broadway in New York City to a converted brownstone mansion on East 14th Street in Manhattan, its first indoor studio, and the first movie studio in the world to rely exclusively on artificial light "( [] )". Biograph moved again in 1913, as it entered feature film production, to a new, state-of-the-art studio on 175th Street in the Bronx "( [] )".

D.W. Griffith

Director D.W. Griffith joined Biograph in 1908 as a writer and actor, but within months became their principal director. In 1908, the company's head director Warren McChutcheon grew ill, and his son, Warren McCutcheon Jr. took his place, but was not able to make a successful film for the company [,_D.W./Biography/ D.W. Griffith Biography ] ] . As a result of these failed productions, studio head Henry Marvin gave the position of head director to Griffith. He helped establish many of the conventions of narrative film, including cross-cutting to show events occurring simultaneously in different places, the flashback, the fade-in/fade-out, the interposition of closeups within a scene, and a moderated acting style more suitable for film. Although Griffith did not invent these techniques, he made them a regular part of the film vocabulary. Griffith’s prolific output, often one new film a week, and willingness to experiment in many different genres helped the company become a major commercial success. Many early movie stars were Biograph performers, including Mary Pickford, Lionel Barrymore, Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish, Robert Harron, Florence Auer, Carol Dempster, Alan Hale, Sr., Blanche Sweet, Harry Carey, Mabel Normand, Henry B. Walthall and Dorothy Davenport. Mack Sennett honed his craft as an actor and director of comedies at Biograph. After debuting at Biograph, Mary Pickford also became a top star at the studio and would soon be known to audiences as "The Biograph Girl" [ [ © Mary Pickford, Silent Movie Star - ] ] .

In January 1910, D.W. Griffith, and Lee Dougherty with the rest of the Biograph acting company, traveled to Los Angeles. While the purpose of the trip was to shoot the film "Ramona" in authentic locations, it was also to determine the suitability of the West Coast as a place for a permanent studio. The group set up a small facility at Washington Street and Grand Avenue (where the Los Angeles Convention Center now stands). After this, Griffith and his players decided to go a little further north to a small village they had heard about that was friendly, and had beautiful floral scenery. They decided to travel there, and fell in love with this little place called Hollywood. Biograph then made the first film ever in Hollywood called "In Old California", a Latino melodrama about the early days of Mexico-owned California. [cite book
first = Patrick
last = Robertson
title = Film Facts
location = New York
publisher = Billboard Books
year = 2001
pages = 21
id = ISBN 0-8230-7943-0
Although "In Old California" was the first movie shot specifically in Hollywood, Biograph had already filmed "A Daring Hold-Up in Southern California" in Los Angeles in 1906. cite book
first = Kemp R.
last = Niver
title = Biograph Bulletins, 1896–1908
location = Los Angeles
publisher = Locare Research Group
year = 1971
pages = 262
id =
The Selig Polyscope Company made pictures in the Los Angeles area in 1908 and 1909, and began construction of a movie studio in Edendale, just east of Hollywood, in 1909.
] Griffith and the Biograph troupe then filmed other short movies at various locations, then travelled back to New York. After the east coast film community heard about Hollywood, other film companies began to migrate there. Biograph’s little film launched Hollywood as the future movie capital of the world. Biograph opened a studio at Pico and Georgia streets in downtown Los Angeles in 1911, and sent a film crew to work there each year until 1916.

Griffith left Biograph in October 1913, after finishing "Judith of Bethulia", unhappy with their resistance to larger budgets, feature film production, or giving onscreen credit to him and the cast. With him went many of the Biograph actors, his cameraman Billy Bitzer, and his production crew. As a final slight to Griffith, Biograph delayed release of "Judith of Bethulia" until March 1914, to avoid a profit-sharing arrangement the company had with him. [cite book
first = Eileen
last = Bowser
title = The Transformation of Cinema 1907–1915
location = Berkeley
publisher = University of California Press
year = 1990
pages = 253
id = ISBN 0-520-08534-5


In December 1908, Biograph joined Edison in forming the Motion Picture Patents Company in an attempt to control the industry and shut out smaller producers. [cite web
url =
title = Motion Picture Patents Company
accessdate = 2007-04-13
work = Encyclopædia Britannica
publisher = Encyclopædia Britannica Online
] The "Edison Trust,” as it was nicknamed, was made up of Edison, Biograph, Essanay Studios, Kalem Company, George Kleine Productions, Lubin Studios, Georges Méliès, Pathé, Selig Studios, and Vitagraph Studios, and dominated distribution through the General Film Company. The Motion Picture Patents Co. and the General Film Co. were found guilty of antitrust violation in October 1915, and dissolved. [cite web
url =
title = Company Records Series -- Motion Picture Patents Company
accessdate = 2007-04-13
work = The Thomas A. Edison Papers

Shielded by the Trust, Biograph had been slow to enter feature film production. Biograph contracted with the theatrical firm of Klaw & Erlanger in 1913 to produce movie versions of the latter’s plays. Their first released feature, "Classmates", came out in February 1914, after sixty-nine other American features had been released in 1912–1913. [cite book
first = Patricia King (ed.)
last = Hanson
title = The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures: Feature Films, 1911–1920
location = Berkeley
publisher = University of California Press
year = 1989
id = ISBN 0-520-06301-5
] With the exodus of the studio’s best actors with Griffith, Biograph was unable develop a marketable star system as the independent companies were doing, and after the Trust’s fall, Biograph found itself behind the times. The Biograph Co. released its last new feature-length films in 1915, and its last new short films in 1916. [cite book
last = Lauritzen
first = Einar
coauthors = Gunnar Lundquist
others = Distributed by Tonnheims (Huddinge, Sweden)
title = American Film-Index, 1916–1920: Motion Pictures, January 1916–December 1920
year = 1984
publisher = Film-Index
location = Stockholm, Sweden
isbn = 91-86568-01-9
] Biograph spent the remainder of the silent era reissuing its old films, and leasing its Bronx studio to other producers. When the Biograph Company fell on financial hard times, the studio facilities were acquired by one of Biograph Company's creditors, the Empire Trust Company, although Biograph Company continued to manage the studio. Herbert Yates acquired the Biograph Company studios and film laboratory facilities in 1928. Biograph Studios in the Bronx was made a subsidiary of his Consolidated Film Industries in 1928. [cite book
first = Jon
last = Tuska
title = The Vanishing Legion: A History of Mascot Pictures, 1927–1935
location = Jefferson, North Carolina
publisher = McFarland & Company
year = 1999
pages = 42
isbn = 0-7864-0749-2
The last trade of Biograph stock was reported by "The New York Times" on December 27, 1928, p. 39. The Biograph trademarks were legally abandoned by 1942. [ 15 USC 1127] . The last of the Biograph film copyrights expired in 1945, without any of them having been renewed for a second term. cite book
first = Walter E.
last = Hurst
title = Film Superlist: Motion Pictures in the U.S. Public Domain
location = Hollywood, California
publisher = Hollywood Film Archive
year = 1992–1994
pages =
id =
] [cite news
title= Screen News Here and in Hollywood
work= The New York Times
page= 29
date=September 27, 1939
Empire Trust Company, one of Biograph's creditors, had acquired the Bronx studio, but retained Biograph to manage it. Empire Trust later reassigned management to one of its own subsidiaries, The Actinograph Corp., which held it until 1948. R. H. Hammer, Biograph's general manager going back to its Griffith days, donated what remained of Biograph's film collection to the Museum of Modern Art in 1939, around the time Biograph's Bronx studio was closed. Iris Barry, "Why Wait for Posterity?" "Hollywood Quarterly", January 1946, pp. 131–137. Reprinted in "Hollywood Quarterly: Film Culture in Postwar America, 1945–1957".
] The studio and laboratory facilities burned down in 1980. ["Bronx Blaze Damages Old Biograph Studios," "The New York Times", July 9, 1980, p. B4.]

New company

Producer Thomas R. Bond II and his father, Tommy Bond started the new California corporation, which is headquartered in downtown Los Angeles. President and CEO Thomas Bond said the company is looking to develop a 10,000- to convert|40000|sqft|m2|sing=on production facility in downtown Los Angeles. [cite web|publisher=LA Downtown News Online|date=2006-03-20|accessdate=2006-08-07|url=|title=Old Downtowner Returns]

Biograph has released one DVD, "The Rascals", hosted by Tommy Bond. [cite web
url =
title = The Rascals (2004) (V)
accessdate = 2007-04-13
work = Internet Movie Database
] The company also says that it will soon offer both new and historical "Mutoscope" short films for wireless and mobile devices. [cite web
url =
title = Wireless Entertainment - Mutoscopes
accessdate = 2007-04-13
author = American Mutoscope & Biograph Co.
year = 2006
] In 2003, Dennis Hope donated title to over convert|1700|acre|km2|0 on the Moon to Biograph for use as a filming location. [cite web
url =
title = Space Age Publishing Company
accessdate = 2007-05-02
] Bond stated that he planned to start filming there by 2008. [cite web
url =
title = Space Division
accessdate = 2007-05-02
] The film is to be a documentary titled "A Trip to the Moon". [cite web
url =
title = Upcoming Movies
accessdate = 2007-05-02

ee also

* Biograph Studios
* Cinema of the United States
* History of cinema
* List of film formats
* List of Hollywood movie studios


External links

* cite journal
title = Biograph’s Biography
url =
journal = MovieMaker
author = Jennifer M. Wood
issue = Winter 2004
volume = 10

Original company

* "(note: not complete after 1903)"
* "(note: not complete)"
* cite web
url =
title = Mutoscope and Biograph
publisher = The Projection Box

* SMU's [ Sulphur Springs Collection of Pre-Nickelodeon Films] contains [ nine Pre-Nickelodeon movies] , including one American Mutoscope & Biograph film, [,7 "The Maniac Barber"]

New company

* [ American Mutoscope and Biograph Company corporate website]

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