Although short-lived, the nickelodeon theatre was a pioneer movie house. It's reign began in 1905 and lasted a mere nine years ending in 1914. During these years it provided the movies with its first permanent home, established a durable pattern for nationwide distribution, and most importantly built for the motion picture an audience that would continue to support it for another forty years. After the decline of the nickelodeon it still survived in popular legend as a monument to movies in their age of innocence (Merritt, 1976 p59)
The nickelodeon was a small, uncomfortable makeshift theater. It was commonly a converted dance hall, restaurant, pawnshop, or cigar store made over to look like a vaudeville emporium. Outside the theatres large vivid posters were pasted into the theater windows, which announced the playbill for the day. For ten cents - nickelodeons were seldom a nickel - the early moviegoer went inside and viewed an assortment of brief adventure, comedy, or fantasy films that lasted approximately an hour.
The programs were enhanced by including sing-alongs; inexpensive vaudeville acts and illustrated lectures. The show routinely began with a song, usually one of the popular ballads of the day (e.g. "Sunbonnet Sue" or "Bicycle Built for Two"), or a patriotic anthem. During this performance hand-colored magic lantern slides illustrated scenes form the song and a final slide projected the lyrics encouraging the audience to join in and sing along (Merritt, 1976 pp. 60-61). Most of the nickelodeons consisted of 199 kitchen chairs, their number defined by regulations which in major cities required an annual five hundred dollar fee for theatrical licenses if an audience numbered two hundred or more (Cassedy, 1959).
Although where or when the first "true" motion picture house came into being is still not certain, what is known is that Harry...