Vitagraph Studios was an American film studio from 1897 to 1925.
In 1896, English émigré Blackton was moonlighting as a reporter/artist for the New York Evening World when he was sent to interview Thomas Edison about his new film projector. The inventor talked the entrepreneurial reporter into buying a set of films and a projector. A year later, Blackton and business partner Smith founded the American Vitagraph Company in direct competition with Edison. A third partner, distributor William "Pop" Rock, was added around the turn of the century. The company's first studio was located on the rooftop of a building on Nassau Street in Manhattan. Operations were later moved to the Flatbush (or more precisely Midwood) neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. The company's first claim to fame came from newsreels: Vitagraph cameramen were on the scene to film events from the Spanish-American War of 1898. These shorts were among the first works of motion-picture propaganda, and a few had that most characteristic fault of propaganda, studio re-enactments being passed off as footage of actual events (The Battle of Santiago Bay was filmed in an improvised bathtub, with the "smoke of battle" provided by Mrs. Blackton's cigar).
Vitagraph was not the only company seeking to make money from Edison's motion picture inventions, and Edison's lawyers were very busy at the end of the nineteenth century filing patents and suing competitors. Blackton did his best to avoid lawsuits by buying a special license from Edison and by agreeing to sell many of his most popular films to Edison for distribution.
The American Vitagraph Company made many contributions to the history of movie-making. It was one of the original ten production companies included in Edison's attempt to corner movie-making, the Motion Picture Patents Company. Major stars included Florence Turner (the "Vitagraph Girl", world's first movie star, and co-star of the world's first movie credit and 'top billing credit' for the film 'The Automobile Thieves', released Saturday, November 10, 1906), Maurice Costello (the first of the matinee idols), Harry T. Morey, and Jean (the "Vitagraph Dog" and the first animal star of the Silent Era). iN 1903 the director Joseph Delmont started his career with producing westerns, who later got famous with using "wild carnivoras" in his movies — a sensation for that time. Larry Trimble was a noted director of films for Turner and Jean (he was also the dog's owner). John Bunny made films for Vitagraph in the 1910s most of them co-starring Flora Finch, and was the most popular film comedian in the world in the years before Chaplin; his death in 1915 was observed worldwide. In 1910, a number of moviehouses showed the five parts of the Vitagraph serial The Life of Moses' consecutively (a total length of almost 90 minutes), making it one of many to claim the title of "the first feature film". A long series of Shakespeare adaptations were the first done of the Bard's works in the U.S. (the surviving A Midsummer Night's Dream is considered one of the classics of the Silent Era). The 1915 feature The Battle Cry of Peace (written and directed by Blackton) was one of the great propaganda films of World War I. Ironically, after America declared war, the film was modified for re-release because it was seen as not being sufficiently pro-war, thus it also earns a place in the history of censorship.
World War I spelled the beginning of the end for Vitagraph. With the loss of foreign distributors and the rise of the great production-distribution houses, Vitagraph was slowly but surely squeezed out of the business. Making matters worse, Vitagraph's leading comedy star Larry Semon was consistently popular, but also consistently draining the company's finances with his spectacular and expensive productions. On April 22, 1925, Vitagraph owner Albert E. Smith sold the company to Younger Bros. Pictures for a comfortable profit. Younger Bros. soon fired all the stars and Vitagraph's assets, including it's nation-wide distrbution system and set of Poverty Row lots and studios, was added to YB. With that, plus the removal of Vitagraph stock, the company ceased to exist.