Vitagraph Studios, also known as the Vitagraph Company of America, was a United Statesmotion picture studio. It was founded by J. Stuart Blackton and Albert E. Smith in 1897 in Brooklyn, New York, as the American Vitagraph Company. By 1907, it was the most prolific American film production company, producing many famous silent films. It was bought by Warner Bros. in 1925.
In 1896, English émigré Blackton was moonlighting as a reporter/artist for the New York Evening World when he was sent to interview Thomas Edison about his new film projector. The inventor talked the entrepreneurial reporter into buying a set of films and a projector. A year later, Blackton and business partner Smith founded the American Vitagraph Company in direct competition with Edison. A third partner, distributor William "Pop" Rock, joined in 1899. The company's first studio was located on the rooftop of a building on Nassau Street in Manhattan. Operations were later moved to the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. The company's first claim to fame came from newsreels: Vitagraph cameramen were on the scene to film events from the Spanish–American War of 1898. These shorts were among the first works of motion-picture propaganda, and a few had that most characteristic fault of propaganda, studio re-enactments being passed off as footage of actual events. In 1897 Vitagraph produced The Humpty Dumpty Circus, which was the first film to use the stop-motion technique. Vitagraph was not the only company seeking to make money from Edison's motion picture inventions, and Edison's lawyers were very busy in the 1890s and 1900s filing patents and suing competitors for patent infringement. Blackton did his best to avoid lawsuits by buying a special license from Edison in 1907 and by agreeing to sell many of his most popular films to Edison for distribution. The American Vitagraph Company made many contributions to the history of movie-making. In 1903 the director Joseph Delmont started his career by producing westerns; he later became famous by using "wild carnivores" in his movies—a sensation for that time. In 1909 it was one of the original ten production companies included in Edison's attempt to corner movie-making in America, the Motion Picture Patents Company. Due to its extensive European distribution interests, Vitagraph also participated in the Paris Film Congress in February 1909. This was a failed attempt by European producers to form a cartel similar to the MPPC.
In 1915, Chicago distributor George Kleine orchestrated a four-way film distribution partnership, V-L-S-E, Incorporated, for the Vitagraph, Lubin, Selig, and Essanay companies. Albert Smith served as president. In 1916, Benjamin Hampton had proposed a merger of the distribution companies Paramount Pictures and V-L-S-E with Famous Players Film Company and Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company, but was foiled by Adolph Zukor. V-L-S-E was dissolved on August 17, 1916, when Vitagraph purchased a controlling interest in Lubin, Selig, and Essanay.
Vitagraph's first office, opened in 1898, was in Lower Manhattan, at 140 Nassau Street, on the corner of Nassau St. and Beekman St., where they shot their first film, The Burglar on the Roof, in 1897. In 1890, the company moved to 110-16 Nassau Street. They subsequently opened a glass-enclosed studio, the first modern film studio in the U.S., built in 1906, on property bounded by Locust Avenue, East 15th Street, Elm Avenue, and right-of-way of the BMT Brighton Line of the New York City Subway. Transportation of equipment and costumes from the Nassau Street interior stages was by subway to the adjacent Avenue M Subway rapid transit station in the Midwood section of Brooklyn. They created a second film studio in Santa Monica, California, in 1911, and a year later moved to a 29-acre sheep ranch at 4151 Prospect Ave in the Los Feliz district of Los Angeles, a studio subsequently owned by ABC and currently Disney Studios.