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.
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.
The Lubin Manufacturing Company records contain photographs, advertisements, business records, publicity materials, and artifacts documenting Siegmund Lubin’s career as one of America’s most successful film producers during the silent film era. While the collection does not include any full-length Lubin films, it is the largest collection of Lubin textual material in the world. Researchers interested in silent film history, theater culture, the early film industry of the Philadelphia region, silent film actors, and the biography of Siegmund Lubin will find this collection to be of value. There are seven series in the collection: “Scrapbooks,” “Printed Materials,” “Photographs and Graphic Materials,” “Writings on Siegmund Lubin and his family,” “Corporate Information records,” “Lubin Collections at Free Library of Philadelphia,” and “Artifacts.”
The “Scrapbooks” series contains seven scrapbooks of newspaper and magazine clippings, playbills, advertisements, and flyers related to Lubin’s films and career spanning from December 1911 to April 1916. These scrapbooks have been separated from their original binding and placed in archival containers.
The “Printed Materials” series contains three subseries: "Advertisements," "Bulletins," and "Film Inventory." The “Advertisements” subseries includes pamphlets and posters advertising the release of Lubin films such as “The Great Divide” and “The Gods of Fate” from 1913 to 1915. The “Bulletins” subseries contains a run of the Lubin Films Bulletin, a publication written by Lubin that was dedicated to promoting his upcoming productions. The bulletins span from March 1913 to February 1916. The “Film Inventory” subseries contains printed catalogues of Lubin films from 1904 to 1907, typed lists of his films leading up to 1910, and a sheet of microfiche from 1990.
The “Photographs and Graphic Materials” series is divided into five subseries. The “Lantern slides and negatives” subseries contains lantern slides, both large and small, that were used in conjunction with his films. The “Portraits” subseries contains both head shots and action shots of actors and actresses involved in Lubin’s films. The “Stills of Lubin movies” subseries contains still images of many of his movies, including “Disaster movie,” “The Gods of Fate," and “Toonerville Trolley.” Some of these movies are identified; however the majority of stills in this subseries are unidentified. The “Studios” subseries contains images of several film studios owned by Lubin, including "Lubinville" which was located at 20th and Indiana streets in Philadelphia; Betzwood, Pennsylvania; and Portland, Maine. The “Theaters” subseries contains photographs of theaters owned by Lubin, as well as of theaters advertising his films. The majority of photographs in this series are not dated.
The “Writings on Siegmund Lubin and his family” series contains papers, articles, and notes on Lubin’s life and film technique dating from 1911 to 2006. Included in the series are two papers from 1911 and 1915 written on Lubin's efforts to create the ideal film production environment. Also in this series is a book about Siegmund Lubin titled The Beloved Adventurer, which was published in 1914. Researchers interested in Lubin’s biography may also want to consult the notes on the Lubin family compiled by Emily Lubin Lowry (Lubin’s daughter) that are housed in this series.
The “Corporate Information files” series contains correspondence, patent information, and receipts of the Lubin Manufacturing Company from 1907 to 1986. Researchers interested in Lubin’s role in film history should consult his patents for film inventions in this series.
The “Lubin Collections at the Free Library of Philadelphia” series contains information about the assembling of Lubin materials at the Free Library, as well as records related to its usage at other institutions. Several exhibitions about Lubin have been held at various institutions, including exhibitions at the Balch Institute, Montgomery County Community College, and the National Museum of American Jewish History. The records in this series document their usage.
The “Artifacts” series contains several items accompanying the Lubin collection at the Free Library. Some of these items include large film posters, Lubin’s car hood ornament, a Lubin Manufacturing Company paperweight, a film projector from 1905, and a bin containing Lubin film clips and documentaries.
The collection is arranged in seven series: I. Scrapbooks; II. Printed materials; III. Photographs and graphic materials; IV. Writings on Siegmund Lubin and his family; V. Corporate information records; VI. Lubin Collections at Free Library of Philadelphia; VII. Artifacts.
Series II. Printed materials contains four subseries: i. Advertisements; ii. Bulletins; iii. Film Inventory; iv. Newspaper clippings.
Series III. Photographs and graphic materials contains five subseries: i. Lantern slides and negatives; ii. Portraits; iii. Stills of Lubin movies; iv. Studios; v. Theaters.
This collection is open for research use.
The right of access to material does not imply the right of publication. Permission for reprinting, reproduction, or extensive quotation from the rare books, manuscripts, prints or drawings must be obtained through written application, stating the use to be made of the material.
The reader bears the responsibility for any possible infringement of copyright laws in the publication of such material.
A reproduction fee will be charged if the material is to be reproduced in a commercial publication.
This collection was minimally processed in 2009-2011, as part of an experimental project conducted under the auspices of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries to help eliminate processing backlog in Philadelphia repositories. A minimally processed collection is one processed at a less intensive rate than traditionally thought necessary to make a collection ready for use by researchers. When citing sources from this collection, researchers are advised to defer to folder titles provided in the finding aid rather than those provided on the physical folder.
Employing processing strategies outlined in Mark Greene's and Dennis Meissner's 2005 article, More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal With Late 20th-Century Collections, the project team tested the limits of minimal processing on collections of all types and ages, in 23 Philadelphia area repositories. A primary goal of the project, the team processed at an average rate of 2-3 hours per linear foot of records, a fraction of the time ordinarily reserved for the arrangement and description of collections. Among other time saving strategies, the project team did not extensively review the content of the collections, replace acidic folders or complete any preservation work.
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