Lubin, Siegmund, -1923

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1851-04-20
Death 1923-09-11

Biographical notes:

Siegmund Lubin (1851-1923) founded the Lubin Manufacturing Company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which, from 1895 to just before its collapse in 1916, grew to be one of the largest motion picture production companies in the world. His moviemaking empire started with the purchase of one film projector in 1895. Before long, it included a chain of movie theaters, multiple state-of-the-art production studios across the United States, hundreds of employees, numerous patents for recording and projecting equipment, and international movie distribution. Lubin's logo and motto, "Clear As A Bell," referred to the superior quality of his motion picture images.

Siegmund Lubin was born in Germany in 1851. He was educated at Heidelberg University and, following in the footsteps of his father, earned his degree in ophthalmology. Lubin traveled to the United States, first in 1868, and then immigrated permanently in 1876. He lived in New Haven, Connecticut, where he met his wife, Annie Abrams. After they married, they traveled the United States together attending fairs and exhibitions where Lubin conducted eye examinations and sold eye glasses. In 1882, after the birth of their daughter Edith, the family moved to Philadelphia where Lubin opened an optical shop at 237 North Eighth Street. His family occupied the second floor apartment. Lubin continued to travel around the country to attend exhibitions, and it was a during a trip to New Orleans that he was first introduced to and became interested in the burgeoning field of motion picture recording.

In 1895, Lubin purchased a projecting "Phantoscope" from inventors C. Francis Jenkins and Thomas Armat. By 1896, Lubin had established his motion picture business, "Life Motion Pictures," using profits from his optical shop and the investments of family and friends. He soon developed his own projector, the "Cineograph," that he manufactured, marketed, and sold to the general public, along with other varieties of projectors and films.

Lubin was a savvy entrepreneur and a gifted marketer. According to authors Eckhardt and Kowall, Lubin was not wholly unique in his interest and efforts to manufacture projecting equipment and exhibit films, but it was his marketing ability that secured his success. They state that "Lubin pioneered the mass marketing of motion picture machinery and films with an eye toward creating a demand. In his imaginative use of advertising, his exploitation of the movies as a mass entertainment, and his painstaking creation of a network of exhibitors ready to buy whatever he could produce, Lubin opened up the field and set a pattern which others would quickly follow." In addition, Lubin both pirated films of other movie producers and produced his own, to both increase profits and keep up with demand for new films. He staged and filmed reenactments of famous boxing matches, battles of the Spanish-American War, and news stories. Initially, Lubin filmed in parks and in his own backyard; but around 1899, he built a more formal movie studio on the roof top of the building at 912 Arch Street in Philadelphia.

Early in his career, Lubin suffered numerous legal disputes with Thomas Edison, his primary rival, and other movie producers for patent infringement and pirating films. Though they battled in the courts for many years, their disagreements ultimately led to Edison and Lubin partnering in the formation of the Motion Picture Patents Company in 1908.

In 1910, Lubin built a large glass studio at 20th and Indiana Streets in North Philadelphia, which was dubbed by the press as "Lubinville." The studio was state-of-the-art and included an open tank under the floor that could be flooded to stage scenes involving large volumes of water as well as a cutting edge lighting system for use on cloudy days. There were also costume rooms, property storage rooms for set building, an editing room, and a cafeteria. Soon, Lubin had similar studios in the Philadelphia suburbs, including Betzwood, and Florida, California, and Arizona.

After the construction of his studio at 20th and Indiana, Lubin began to invest in the quality of his films and actors, for the first time. He recruited famous actresses and actors, such as Florence Lawrence, Ormi Hawley, and John Halliday, who brought greater acclaim to his productions.

Despite Lubin's efforts, by early 1912, the Lubin Manufacturing Company began to fall behind the more progressive members of the Motion Picture Patents Company and other independent producers of films in terms of overall quality and film length. The start of World War I, which destroyed his foreign markets, and an explosion in his Philadelphia studio in which thousands of feet of film were lost contributed to the company's decline. The dissolution of the Motion Picture Patents Company in an anti-trust suit added to the failure.

By 1915, Lubin was forced to begin consolidating his business and he closed the studios one-by-one. Despite efforts of one employee to move the company to California, the eastern branch of the Lubin Manufacturing Company would remain the dominant base of operations. As a last effort to save the company, Lubin attempted a merger with other leading production companies, known as the "Big Four": Vitagraph-Lubin-Selig-Essanay, Inc. Lubin also tried to re-release popular films as well as to sign more famous actors, such as Charlie Chaplin. However, none of these efforts changed the company's fate.

In 1916, Lubin's creditors seized control, and the company and all of its assets were sold. He went back to his work as an optician, and died in 1923.

Bibliography:

Eckhardt, Joseph P. and Linda Kowall. Peddler of Dreams: Siegmund Lubin and the Creation of the Motion Picture Industry, 1896-1916 . National Museum of American Jewish History: Philadelphia, 1984.

From the guide to the Lubin Manufacturing Company records, 1881-2006, (Free Library of Philadelphia: Rare Book Department)

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w67m288v
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Subjects:

  • Inventions--United States--History
  • Silent films
  • Motion picture actors and actresses
  • Motion picture industry

Occupations:

not available for this record

Places:

  • Philadelphia (Pa.) (as recorded)