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The "States Rights" Owners

vitascope phonograph purchased kinetoscope

Raff& Gammon began to market the vitascope by looking for purchasers of exhibition rights among their established customers. In early February they offered to sell the California rights to Peter Bacigalupi, owner of a San Francisco phonograph and kinetoscope parlor, but he declined. Interested customers included Thomas L. Tally, who wanted to feature the vitascope in his Los Angeles kinetoscope parlor, and Lyman H. Howe, who hoped to purchase the rights to Pennsylvania and incorporate moving pictures into his phonograph concerts. 11 For both the price proved too high.

Among those who did actually become vitascope rights owners, many entered the field because of a previous interest in the phonograph and/or kinetoscope: 12

  • Robert Fischer, a locksmith with a bicycle repair shop in Great Falls, Montana, owned a kinetoscope and two nickel-in-the slot phonographs. He and J. B. Maurer, who ran a general store with his brother, purchased the rights to parts of Colorado (including Denver) and the state of Washington.

W. R. Miller, a traveling phonograph exhibitor from Stratford, Connecticut, was exhibiting the phonograph throughout the South when he purchased the rights to Tennessee for a thousand dollars in cash and additional deferred payments.

  • The Holland Brothers, who were then marketing the phonograph and kinetoscope from their base in Ottawa, Canada, waited patiently through the first months of enthusiasm. They received permission to exhibit the vitascope in Canada gratis and were promised a generous commission if they sold the territorial rights.

  • Allen F. Rieser, the first to purchase territory, was also involved with phonograph exhibition. Rieser was president of the American Publishing Association, which supplied public schools with library books and helped libraries raise the necessary money for their purchases by giving phonograph concerts. He acquired the rights to Pennsylvania, except for Philadelphia and Allegheny County (including Pittsburgh) for $1,500 at the beginning of March and eventually went on to purchase the Ohio rights for another $5,000. A number of his friends and acquaintances also became involved.

Amusement and theatrical entrepreneurs formed another large group of states rights owners:

  • Thomas J. Ryan, an amusement entrepreneur with phonograph interests, purchased the rights to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
  • C. O. Richardson, who purchased the rights to Maine, had worked for the previous twenty years in theatrical circles.
  • Walter J. Wainwright, a tightrope walker and carnival showman, and William T. Rock, who had once been in the circus but was then extricating himself from ownership of an unsuccessful electrical company, waited for the first flurry of enthusiasm to pass and then purchased the Louisiana rights for $1,500.
  • William A. McConnell, business manager for Koster & Bial’s, acquired the rights to Connecticut for $3,000.
  • Eurio Hopkins, Jr., also had some background in the entertainment field. He was part of the consortium of White, Barry & Hopkins, which owned the rights to Rhode Island and Texas. One of his backers, Abraham White, was a financial speculator with offices in downtown Manhattan.

At the same time, investors also included many small businessmen and professionals with little experience in the amusement field:

  • Peter W. Kiefaber, a Philadelphia dealer in butter, eggs, and poultry, purchased the rights first to New Jersey (including Atlantic City) and then to Massachusetts, Illinois, and Maryland. He was encouraged by A. F. Rieser, who had also been in the wholesale produce business.
  • Four merchants from Connellsville, Pennsylvania—J. R. Balsley, builder and lumber-mill owner; Richard S. Paine, shoe-store owner; F. E. Markell, owner of several drug stores, and Cyrus Echard, who was active in the coal trade—formed a consortium and purchased the rights to Indiana for $4,000. Balsley and Paine went on to buy the rights to California for $3,500. 13
  • M. M. Hixson, a doctor in the small town of Dupont, Ohio, bought the rights to Wisconsin with J. J. Wollam, a mechanical expert.
  • In Ottawa, Ohio, bank president W. F. Reed and Frank G. Kahle were induced to purchase the rights to Iowa.
  • The express agent in St. John, North Dakota, John C. Ryderman, bought the rights to his home state.
  • A merchant, Edmund McLoughlin, sold or closed his business in downtown Manhattan to purchase exhibition rights to most of New York State with Arthur Frothingham.
  • George J. Llewellyn, the protonotary for Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, and James M. Norris, chief clerk at the county courthouse, purchased the rights to Michigan. Llewellyn, a Wilkes-Barre law student who had recently sold his hardware business, came from the same town as Lyman H. Howe and was the same age; it appears that the protonotary witnessed the showman’s excitement over the vitascope and took the plunge on his own. Such a web of intersecting relationships was typical among states rights owners.

A final group, closely related to those exploiting the phonograph and kinetoscope, consisted of individuals with backgrounds in electricity. They tended to see themselves as simply working with another Edison-inspired invention. W. G. Brown, for example, owner of the Brown Electric & Machine Company, bought the rights to Arkansas (he also had previously been involved in the kinetoscope business). 14 In several other instances, people with electrical experience supplied the enthusiasm if not the cash. Edwin S. Porter, a twenty-five-year-old telegraph operator and electrician with the U.S. Navy, became aware of the vitascope while working at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and informed his hometown friends of the vitascope “opportunity”; after they bought the rights to California and Indiana, he worked for them as an operator. Robert Fischer, co-owner of the rights to Colorado and Washington state, did “Electrical Work of all kinds,” according to his stationery. The latter partner of Hixson & Wollam was likewise an electrical expert. (Exhibition rights to states such as New Hampshire, Kansas, and Nebraska were also sold, though information about their purchase is scanty.)

Raff & Gammon were eager to sell vitascope rights overseas—a logical desire given the Continental Commerce Company’s previous accomplishments. Juggler Paul Cinquevalli was ready to purchase the English and French rights for $25,000 each, until he returned to London and saw the Lumière cinématographe and other machines in operation. Still hoping to open up European markets, Raff & Gammon sent Charles Webster and a vitascope to London on 22 April, the day before the projector’s New York premiere. On his arrival, Webster saw the Lumière cinématographe in action and was deeply impressed. Writing to his employers, he detailed the various Lumière views while stating that “other machines are sold for $200.00 and that quite a number have been sold in France.” Webster toured with the vitascope in various parts of Europe but never realized the large profits that Raff & Gammon had initially anticipated. To fill Webster’s position during his trip, Raff & Gammon hired James White, who quickly became a key figure in the new enterprise. When the Vitascope Company was officially incorporated in May, he was given one share of stock and placed on the board of directors. 15

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