During the early 1900s, when Chicago was the center
of the motion picture industry, Donald J. Bell worked as a projectionist
in theaters around northern Illinois, where he became well acquainted
with the equipment used for showing movies. As his interest in films and
equipment grew, a friend helped secure him permission to use the
machinist tools in the powerhouse of Chicago's Northwestern Railway,
where Bell remodeled an Optoscope projector [lantern slide projector by
KODAK] and later modified a
Kinodrome projector [a vaudeville attraction and exhibition service -
various changing topical motion picture shorts - by
George Spoor]. Bell met Albert S. Howell at the Crary Machine
Works, where many of the parts for projectors were manufactured.
Howell was born in Michigan and traveled to Chicago to work in a machine shop that built and repaired motion picture projectors. In 1906 he applied for his first patent, a device that improved framing for 35mm Kinodrome motion picture projectors. With Bell's experience as a movie projectionist, contacts in the movie industry, and ready cash, and Howell's inventive genius and mechanical aptitude, the two men decided to start their own business. Incorporated with a capitalization of $5,000 in February 1907, Bell & Howell Company entered the business of manufacturing, jobbing, leasing, and repairing machines.
During its first year of business, over 50 percent of the company's business involved repairing movie equipment made by other manufacturers. What made the company famous, however, was its development of equipment that addressed the two most important problems plaguing the movie industry at the time: flickering and standardization. Flickering in the early movies was due to the effects of hand-cranked film, which made the speed erratic. Standardization was needed as divergences in film width during these years made it nearly impossible to show the same film in any two cities within the United States.
By 1908, Bell & Howell refined the Kinodrome projector, the film perforator, and the camera and continuous printer, all for the 35mm film width. With the development of this complete system, and the company's refusal to either manufacture or service products of any other size than the 35mm width, Bell & Howell forced film standardization within the motion picture industry.
In 1910, the company made a cinematograph camera entirely of wood and leather. When Bell and Howell learned that their camera had been damaged by termites and mildew during an exploration trip in Africa, they designed the first all metal camera. Introduced in 1912, the design 2709 soon garnered the reputation as 'the most precision film mechanism ever made' and was produced for 46 continuous years. Following the relocation of the motion picture industry from Chicago to Hollywood, Bell & Howell's first movie camera was used in Southern California in 1912. By 1919, nearly 100 percent of the equipment used to make movies in Hollywood was manufactured by Bell & Howell.
In the midst of the company's success, however, internal problems began to emerge. While Howell supervised production, Bell acted as a company salesperson, a job that required many long trips. In order to meet the needs of a growing business during his absences, Bell hired Joseph McNabb as both bookkeeper and general manager in 1916. When Bell returned from one of his trips, he discovered that McNabb had made drastic changes in the operation of the company. While confronting McNabb, Bell accused Howell of acting as McNabb's accomplice. Bell gave them their last paychecks and fired them.
The following day, McNabb and Howell returned to the office and offered to purchase Bell's holdings in the company. The purchase of Bell's interests in Bell & Howell amounted to $183,895. Having contributed an initial investment of $3,500 a little over ten years earlier, Bell was satisfied with the purchase price. Bell moved first to New York and then to California and was never again associated with the company except in name.
Bell and Howell had expanded into the amateur movie market in 1919 when the company began developing 17.5mm equipment. In 1921 McNabb and Howell were invited to Rochester, New York, by George Eastman of Eastman Kodak to observe experiments using l6mm reversal material. McNabb and Howell were impressed with the results and redesigned all the company's 17.5mm equipment to use the 16mm film. In 1923 Bell and Howell manufactured the first spring-driven l6mm camera, beating Eastman Kodak by two years. The demand for this camera was so great that, even at a price of $175, it was on back order until 1930. [Jack Robinson]
Founded as the Société Pathé-Frères in Paris, France,
on 28 September 1896 by the brothers Charles
[1863–1957], Émile [1860-1937], Théophile
and Jacques Pathé. During the first part of the 20th century, Pathé
became the largest film equipment and production company in the world as
well as a major producer of phonograph records.
The driving force behind the film operation was Charles Pathé who had helped to open a gramophone shop in 1894 and then established a phonograph factory at Chatou on the outskirts of Paris. Successful, he saw the opportunities that new means of entertainment offered and in particular by the fledgling motion picture industry. Having decided to expand the record business to include film equipment, Charles Pathé oversaw a rapid expansion of the company.
In 1902, Pathé acquired the Lumière Brothers patents and then set about to design an improved studio camera. Their technologically advanced equipment, new processing facilities built at Vincennes , an industrial suburb of Paris, a studio at Montreuil  and aggressive merchandising combined with an efficient distribution systems allowed the company to capture a huge share of the international market. Pathé first expanded to London in 1902 where it set up production facilities and a chain of movie theaters. By 1909, Pathé had built more than 200 movie theaters in France and Belgium and had facilities in Madrid, Moscow , Rome, New York , Australia and Japan.
Bound Brook, New Jersey, USA
The company began its production
operations in the USA in 1910 when it converted a former cash register
factory in Bound Brook, New Jersey, into a movie studio. The decision to
make this move was that of J.A. Berst, vice-president and general
manager, who had been sent to the USA in 1904 to manage Pathé's
interests. He recommended that specialized production, made in the USA,
was the logical course for the company. His recommendation also included
the establishment [in 1911] of an American version ['Pathé's Weekly']
of the newsreel release which Pathé had pioneered in France in 1908. To
staff its new operation, Pathé sent a basic crew of experienced French
filmmakers, led by director general Louis J. Gasnier. One of Pathé's newsreel and studio cameramen was
Arthur Miller. By 1912, Pathé
had completed modern studios in Jersey City [1 Congress Street], a site
overlooking the Hudson River and Manhattan. It was here that the serial
'The Perils of Pauline' was made.
In 1914 the French parent company sold its American facilities to Merrill, Lynch & Company. Pathé became primarily a releasing organization and the name was eventually changed to Pathé Exchange.
Prior to World War I, Pathé-Frères was the most completely integrated film company in the international marketplace. It controlled all of the various branches of the film industry. Pathé dominated Europe's market in motion picture cameras and projectors. It has been estimated that at one time 60% of all films were shot with Pathé equipment. Worldwide, the company emphasized research, investing in such experiments as hand-colored film and the synchronization of film and gramophone recordings.
In 1918, a radical change of policy could be observed. Pathé-Frères was split into two distinct corporate bodies: Pathé-Frères [Disque Pathé/Pathé Records], a company involved with talking machines [phonographs and recordings], managed by Émile Pathé, and Pathé-Cinéma, a company responsible for film production, distribution, and exhibition, controlled by Charles Pathé.
The following year Pathé-Cinéma began to liquidate its foreign subsidiaries, the most enterprising of which, the American subsidiary, Pathé Exchange, was sold in 1923 for 26 million francs. In 1920, Pathé-Cinéma completely ceased film production and rentals. These activities were undertaken by a new company, Pathé-Consortium-Cinéma. Charles Pathé was directly behind the creation of this company; it was part of his policy of asset liquidation.
The directors of Pathé-Cinéma justified this policy to the minor shareholders as the result of unfavorable conditions in the international market. In fact, this justification hid the real objectives of the major stockholders: to realize their former investments under the most favorable circumstances. This liquidation policy was profitable for Charles Pathé.
Pathé-Cinéma, much reduced in size by and to the profit of its major shareholders, was left very fragile if not completely compromised. In these circumstances, its future looked bleak.
After the creation of Pathé-Consortium-Cinéma in January 1921, Pathé-Cinéma no longer produced or distributed films in 35mm. This was done by Pathé-Consortium. Instead, Pathé-Cinéma specialized in 'reduced film formats'. Pathé's engineers came up with the home cinema system 'Pathé-Baby', using 9.5mm film [35mm split into thee film strips]. The Pathé-Baby projector was unveiled to the public in October 1922. It was a commercial success, its value being enhanced by the introduction in 1923 of a camera. Like the projector, it was hand-cranked [later with a clockwork] and used reversal film housed in daylight-loading chargers; processing could be done by the user with a Pathé developing kit or alternatively entrusted to the company's own plant.
The complete set
Pathé-Cinéma's capital value was 45 million francs in 1928, comprising
450,000 ordinary shares [each with one vote]. The capital was raised by 5
million by means of the creation of 'multiple vote shares'. These shares were
purchased by the members of the board of directors [including Charles Pathé], who thereby acquired 36% of
the votes, in addition to the approximately 20% of the ordinary shares which
they already controlled. The speculative nature of their creation became evident
when they were later sold to the Bernard Natan group for 50 million francs. The abuse
engendered by the creation of 'multiple vote shares' resulted in two
financial laws calling a halt to their creation and directing their elimination.
The arrival of sound and the major investment that the changeover from silent to sound would require accelerated the retirement of a large number of the industry's leaders.
Charles Pathé preferred to cite this combination of events in order to justify his departure. According to him, 'he would have needed the strength of a young man to take part in the revolution which was completely overturning the cinema'. He was over 65 years old. In fact this context masked Charles Pathé's final transaction; he wished, before his retirement, to make the creation of the 'multiple vote shares' profitable.
Jean-Simon Cerf, a well-known Paris-based barrister and businessman, who was seeking a purchaser on behalf of the holders of these shares, presented a candidate to the Pathé directors: Bernard Natan. The 50 million franc transaction [plus 4 million francs for the intermediary] for the control of the 'multiple vote shares' was conducted in several stages, from January 1929 onwards. [Pathé explained modestly, 'I had only 9,520 shares. I sold them to him for 10 million. To be precise, for 9,996,000 francs'.]
By 1929 Bernard Natan [born Natan Tannenzaft or Tanenzapf, 1886-1942] was an established industrialist in the [film] business [Rapid-Film]. His film laboratory operation in the rue Francoeur, Paris [now occupied by La fémis, école nationale supérieure des métiers de l'image et du son], had been transformed in the course of the decade into a small-scale but very dynamic integrated company. Since 1926 he had combined laboratory activities and the production of advertising films. With the creation  of two shooting stages he participated actively in film production as a service provider and as a producer.
6, rue Francoeur, Paris, France
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