That post on Grace’s Guide, the directory of British engineering businesses, brought up the subject of Vinten, a company which began making cinematographic equipment before the First World War and is still going strong. Which made me think, which other film businesses from before 1914 (the ‘early cinema’ period) are still going strong today?
Obviously, the major Hollywood studios had their roots in this period. Carl Laemmle formed Universal in 1912, Fox (later a component part of 20th Century-Fox) began in 1912, Paramount in 1914. But the majors of today, conglomerately speaking, are very different beasts to the companies bearing their names in 1914. Of the other leading American producers of that time, Vitagraph was absorbed by Warners in 1925, Lubin (absorbed by Vitagraph) was gone by in 1916, Biograph by 1917, Edison, Essanay and Selig by 1918, Kalem (another absorbed by Vitagraph) in 1919.
So, who is around who is still trading much as they did at the start of motion pictures? Well, obviously the granddaddy of them all is Eastman, provider of the first motion picture film stock and still around trading as Kodak. Also on trhe film stock side, Technicolor, though the name dates from 1915, was effectively founded in 1912 as Kalmus, Comstock & Wescott.
In France, Gaumont (formed in 1895) continues as strongly as it has throughout cinema history. Remarkably, its archive library recently amalgamated with that of its great rival from the early days, Pathé (formed as the Société Pathé Frères in 1896) to form Gaumont Pathé Archives. Pathé itself exists as a producer and distributor, with a confusing history of subsidiary uses of the name.
In Japan, Nikkatsu, formed in 1912 out of a merger of four film companies, thrives as a leading production company. One pre-1914 Japanese producer, Inabata Katsutaro, was the agent for Lumière in Japan in 1897 before moving onto other businesses, leading to the multinational Inabata & Co. of today, which deals in information technology, chemicals, plastics, housing materials and foods.
In Britain, Vinten (founded by William Vinten in 1910) is today a leading supplier of motion picture camera supports. It seems to be the oldest British film business still operating (Butcher’s Film Service, started in 1896, was active as a business until just a few years ago).
The title of the world’s oldest film company is often claimed by Norway’s Nordisk, formed in 1906, is still producing films – and boasts the same familiar polar bear trademark that it has displayed since 1906.
Other names persist, even though they are not the original companies. Thanhouser ceased as a production company in 1918, but Thanhouser Company Film Preservation Inc., maintained by the Thanhouser family, preserves the company’s legacy by encouraging film preservation and releasing Thanhouser films on video and DVD. The Institut Lumière maintains the legacy of the Lumière brothers’ work. A peculiar outfit claims to be the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company (formed 1895), but www.biographcompany.com is no such thing, being a new business which has acquired the old name and has laid claim to its legacy.
Who else persists, in reality or simply as adopted name? There must be others. Do let me know.
Another British film business from pre-1914 still going strong – Robert Royou Beard established a magic lantern business that preceded motion pictures, and in the 1890s invented a film projector, the Beard Cinematograph. The Beard company continued to make projectors, then moved into lighting for the cinematograph industry, and is still going as Photon Beard (following amalgamation with Photon Lighting in 1990).
Chicago’s Essanay still exists as a company supplying lighting for film shoots.
Is it the same company? There’s nothing on their site (http://www.essanay.com) to indicate a connection. Same city as the original Essanay, though.