Volume I: Narrative History


Chapter 4 (1911): First Anniversary of the Sales Company

To mark the impending first anniversary of the founding of the Sales Company distribution network The Moving Picture World in its issue of April 15, 1911, recalled the events of twelve months earlier:

Commercial records, if investigated, would show that possibly no other commercial concern is conducted along the lines of distribution followed by the Sales Company. To this concern has been given the exclusive agencies for the products of all the Independent manufacturers and importers regularly releasing moving picture films in the country at the time of the Sales Company's reorganization in Chicago in May 1910.

The Sales Company was conceived by Charles O. Baumann and Adam Kessel and organized by them, and Carl Laemmle, and Edwin Thanhouser at a time when they, P.A. Powers and David Horsley were the only Independent manufacturers in this country prepared to release regularly each week. Its history, dating from December 1909 and January 1910, would record simply a series of "labor pains" leading up to the Chicago event of May 7, 1910, when a lusty youngster was presented to the waiting Independent film world, to show it the only way films could be successfully made and marketed outside of the Trust coterie. This child had the advantage of possessing all the experience counted in the unsuccessful attempts of individuals to corner the Independent supply, consisting up to that time mostly of European products.

Coming as he did from the brains of Baumann, Laemmle, Kessel, Swanson, Miles, Powers, and Steiner, he knew moving picture history all through the wildcat days, when Lubin was glad to sell his product in any quantity at six cents a foot, dupes or originals; Edison divided a voluminous catalogue into Class A and Class B, the latter taking up by far the largest part of the catalogue consisting entirely of dupes from foreign positives. He brought with him, as from a past incarnation, memories of the day when Selig would dupe anything worth duping, and few films indeed were passed over in those days as being unworthy of that now thoroughly condemned craftsmanship.

He saw again the day when the Biograph with their large stock of wide films were beset by exhibitors for the standard size film, and to meet the demand they reduced by a reprinting process their wide film to the standard sizes, losing so much in the process as to render results that would be considered nowadays as junk, but which were then gobbled up by the hundred thousand feet at ten to twelve cents per foot.

His upper lip stiffened with proud determination as he contemplated the Independent manufacturing. His efforts approached in a few months a standard of quality that took the older manufacturers as many years to reach. A broad smile wreathed the youngster's face when he thought of Ullman calling together that memorable Astor House banquet party at which the Edison Licensed Manufacturers' scheme was conceived. In thoughtful mood he followed the devious ways of the Edison license agreement and of the Film Service Association, which died a peaceful death in Detroit last July. He recollected distinctly how the czar-like methods of the Motion Picture Patents Company, successors to the momentum created by the Edison Licensed Manufacturers, and familiarly known as the Trust, drove to the verge of commercial suicide many an exchange man and exhibitor in the industry who had been accustomed to absolute freedom in their operations and who after years of uninterrupted prosperity were absolutely at a loss to conceive of how a small number of manufacturers could combine and all of a sudden assume control of an industry that had been a gradual growth from the days of Muybridge and his revolving glass disk; unmolested for years and having invested their savings and earnings in the business, they could not understand any condition which would entitle a few men to say that only they had the right to make moving pictures to supply demand that was beyond their power to satisfy.

Our bright youngster, guided by the failures of the Film Import and Trading Company and International Projection & Producing Company, and by the important role played by the National Independent Alliance, was able to avoid the errors of those movements and thus bring credit to his progenitors. Grown to young manhood, strong and healthy, we will here desert our allegorical youngster and hereafter touch upon what has been accomplished in a short time by a body of men enthusiastic on the subject of increasing the quality of the Independent product and fixed in their determination to prevent a groundless monopoly from squeezing out of business one half of the exhibitors of the country.

The article went on to state that high quality film was now being turned out because of new reliable apparatus, in contrast to just "anything" which was used earlier when the Trust was controlling the cameras. Mention was made of the quality achieved by a good new working force and by use of the new raw stock available from the Eastman Kodak Company since April 1, 1911, as the result of a court order.

In April 1911 the Independents were flourishing as, indeed, the entire film industry was. Motion pictures were becoming increasingly popular, and each day saw more nickelodeons open their doors. The admission charge was still standard at five cents in many areas, but some theatres charged a dime or twenty cents, and there were many suggestions that prices be raised all across the industry. Higher admission charges meant more profits for everyone and the possibility of finer and more expensively staged pictures.

The Patents Company maintained its cartel, but its threat was not as omnipresent as the year before, and it seems that by early 1911 most Independents found one way or another to obtain cameras elsewhere. The Sales Company had its own cartel, so to speak, for its program was sufficiently filled by Thanhouser, IMP, and others that the productions of a number of new upstart producers were not admitted.

Although hand-cranked projectors could be run at various speeds, in an advertisement in The Moving Picture World, April 15, 1911, Thanhouser stated that its one-reel films would last 15 minutes on the screen (but 12 or 13 minutes was a more typical projection time). In the same issue, one G.W. Brandenburgh offered at fixed prices a number of films from his inventory. Included were "as new" Thanhouser films titled John Halifax, Gentleman and Baseball and Bloomers, for $35 each, and for $30, Love and Law.


Copyright © 1995 Q. David Bowers. All Rights Reserved.