Why was the first nickelodeon established in Pittsburgh?

In 1905, Pittsburgh claims that the first nickelodeon in the U.S. was established there. But why Pittsburgh? Even the Warner Bros. only got the idea to get into the entertainment business when they saw it there as children. Why not New York? Why not the other big cities at the time? This thread may be moved to IMHO, but perhaps there is a factual reason as to why entertainment moguls were lured to Pittsburgh (cheaper, etc.).

I just got here, and will work on it. Can you give a cite as to where you got info?

From the OED:

So, there goes the OP. Sorry.

Yikes! Replace “nickelodeon” with “movie theater.” I’m doing research on a paper for my film class. I just read Hollywood be thy Name: The Warner Bros. Story, and it mentions nickelodeons like whoa! Also, in front of me are about three pages on theaters and a couple others on nickelodeons. It was just in my head, sorry!

The term “movies” to refer to the new media only appears in print in about 1907. I’d have to go look to be more precise. The OED cite for the term from 1902 is in error. Some day it will be corrected.

So, “movie theater” is certainly later than 1907, and probably not until the teens. I’ll search some newspaper databases. If you’re at a university, you can too. Use Proquest. Or Newspaperarchive.

I’m sorry, but I don’t have access to the OED website. I re-checked some sources, and although they may not be as highly regarded as the OED, multiple sources are saying the same thing.

For instance, from Answers.com:

From About.com:

From University of Pittsburgh: Research Review - Fall 2002:

There are many more sites that say the same thing. Can anyone clear this up, please?

I cannot, for the life of me, find any source claim that the first nickelodeon was indeed founded (or at least mentioned) as early as 1888.

I’ve been staring at the computer screen for about three straight hours now, and I think my eyes are going to pop :eek:

This is a slight hi-jack, but I had thought that the the word “odeon” dates back only as far as the 1920’s, originally being an acronym for “oscar deutsch entertains our nation”. There are various cites for this, but for instance this link gives a bit of the story.

So I don’t see how the Pittsburg cinema could have been a Nickelodeon in 1905, unless there’s some bizarre etymological coincidence. Maybe the Oscar Deutsch thing is a widely-disseminated urban myth. Any ideas?

From the OED: for Odeon

Another one shot down.

I cleared it up. I found a print cite from 1888(rather, the OED did). Using the WEB is about the worst thing you can do if you’re seriously trying to write a scholarly paper. But maybe you aren’t.

You CAN get access to the online OED. You might have to go to the Univ. of Pittsburgh, or perhaps the Pittsburgh Public library. Please DON’T research your paper just using internet sites.

The word nickelodeon doesn’t necessarily refer to a movie theater. Since the first movie camerawasn’t built until 1889, it’s pretty obvious that the 1888 Boston facility was a theatre in which plays and/or concerts were presented. The word combined the coin name “nickel” with Odéon, the name of a Paris theater that dates to 1782.

Player pianos and jukeboxes have also been called nickelodeons. In the song Music, Music, Music, Teresa Brewer is requesting that her listener “put another nickel in” a jukebox.

As for why the first movie theater (which was also called a nickelodeon) was opened in Pittsburgh, it probably boils down to the fact that Harry Davis was the first vaudeville magnate to realize (or guess) that the motion picture was “the coming thing” in popular entertainment. He is described on this page as a “real estate operator”, so he was apparently a resident of Pittsburgh. Had he happened to have been living in Cleveland or Kansas City at the time, the first movie-playing nickelodeon could have just as easily opened in Ohio or Missouri, respectively.

I’m not an expert in this field, but I don’t think entertainment moguls in general were particularly drawn to Pittsburgh a century ago. However, the city was relatively more important then than it is now, as it was the heart of the USA’s steel industry at a time when “steel was king”, and very little of it was imported into the country. A rough parallel may be the Seattle of today, which is not as populous as New York or Los Angeles but is the major city closest to the Microsoft headquarters, and thus wields a great deal of influence in this computerized age.

Oh, I know I can. It’s 3:07AM here, the library is closed now. I said I couldn’t access the online version, because an annual subscription is necessary (I don’t feel like signing up).

Scholarly paper? Not really. The midterm and final paper, perhaps, but this paper’s purpose is to merely get a feel for the course. I expected to finish this quickly, but I was just confused when you presented the fact regarding the first nickelodeon. My professor was the first to inform me, as well as the rest of the class, that the first theater (and in this instance, aka a nickelodeon), was founded in Pittsburgh in the year 1905. I assumed he knew what he was talking about, as he has been in the business for 20-or-so years as a writer. He also appeared in a documentary in regards to Pittsburgh and the beginning of the motion picture theater industry. He loves the city, and would probably be annoyed if I tried to argue that the first nickelodeon was, in actuality, founded years earlier in a different city.

I could eventually present him with further information, but until I get ahold of the OED (apparently the only source saying otherwise), then I guess I’m stuck agreeing with him.

An important distinction has to be made here: the first theater built expressly for movie exhibition was opened in Pittsburgh in 1905. Otherwise, American theaters built for stage performances had been showing movies as a sideline since 1896.

Thanks to Sternvogel for clearing up my rude-sounding posts. And to Walloon for adding factual info.

We may not have had major league baseball until 1958, but Los Angeles did have the first film theatre, according to some accounts. It was opened in 1902 and called The Electric Theatre.


From the book Film Facts by Patrick Robertson:

I remember my Great Uncles John and George and Peter Demas discussing the Minvera Theater that belonged to my Great Grandfather, D. J. Demas and his brother Peter Demas in the early 1900’s Also how they were connected with the Harris’. I wonder if there might be records of ownership for the theaters at the county courthouse in Pittsburgh. I’m in California. Is anyone there in PGH? It is sad how my family history has been lost or discounted.

People are mostly, I think, confusing movies and the presentation of movies. How best to view a movie and how to make money from the public viewing of movies were very different fields from movie making itself (though people moved from the latter to the former often).

A good short presentation that’s suitable for quoting in a paper is in With amusement for all: a history of American popular culture since 1830 By LeRoy Ashby, which conveniently has the right pages for viewing in Google Books preview.

The movie section you want starts on p. 155. The “Pittsburgh idea” is discussed on p. 157. It is “the single purpose of showing films,” with repeated showings and a set price of a nickel that was the innovation. Lots of places showed movies earlier, but they weren’t dedicated to movies or, if so, were dumps showing barely legible images on bedsheets. (A hilarious description of what going to the movies was like in the 1890s can be found in Kevin Brownlow’s seminal The Parade’s Gone By on p. 2-3.)

I’m sure there are dedicated histories of early movie theaters, but I own and have read these books so I can recommend them. I’d also recommend searching Google Books for more. Just putting in the search terms nickelodeon Pittsburgh 1905 finds Nickelodeon City: Pittsburgh at the Movies, 1905-1929 By Michael Aronson, The emergence of cinema: the American screen to 1907 By Charles Musser, and The community of cinema: how cinema and spectacle transformed the American Downtown By James Forsher.

Google Books or Google Scholar should be everybody’s first stop for research.