The first nickelodeon opens
By the late 1880s, Americans had been introduced to a fascinating new breed of photography they called motion pictures. As more people were exposed to the technology through public demonstrations, motion pictures grew from intimate displays to full-blown projections. In 1896, the Edison Company produced a short reel that accompanied a live vaudeville act: a brief film featuring a collection of moving images like dancers and tidal waves. This formula became standard, as movie “factories” (or studios) started producing similar short films for vaudeville acts. The shorts were called “chasers,” since the cued the audience that the show was over and it was time to leave. But after a 1901 performers’ strike, vaudeville producers were at a loss for entertainment sources. So they began buying longer, commercial films from factories. In 1905, producer Harry Davis opened the first theater devoted to both vaudeville and film, called a nickelodeon, in Pittsburgh. Although it only claimed 96 seats, around 450 people showed up for the opening day. Patrons were charged five cents to get in; the name “nickelodeon” was a portmanteau combining the admission fee and the Greek word for “theater.” Soon, nickelodeons were built all over the country and millions of Americans visited them each year. In the first decade of the 20th century, they were America’s primary source of entertainment and mass culture, until full-scale cinemas became the new rage.
Why do you think audiences would want to see movies and live acts together? What would you rather watch?