Nickelodeon, 441 Smithfield Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

On June 19, 1905, the Nickelodeon boom began when a small theatre by that name opened on Smithfield Street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The following is from an excellent article by Timothy McNulty, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 19, 2005.

Implet Magazine, 1911

“There were other stand-alone theaters in New Orléans and Los Angeles before the Nickelodeon opened, says Michael Aronson, an assistant professor of film and media studies at the University of Oregon, who is writing a history of the Pittsburgh nickelodeon boom. And other theaters had carried the name ‘nickelodeon,’ for a combination of their admission price and the Greek word for “theater.”

Also, the films often cited through the years as opening at the Pittsburgh Nickelodeon in 1905 — a comedy called ‘The Baffled Burglar’ and the melodrama ‘Poor but Honest’ — were also likely incorrect. According to records kept by the American Film Institute, those films were not produced until several years later.

Other historical references say the first movie shown was ‘The Great Train Robbery,’ but that legendary 1903 film was already so well-known (it previously had a summer-long run at Kennywood, for instance) that patrons probably would not be flooding into the Nickelodeon to see it again two years later.

But the importance of the theater, whatever the details, is not in question, says Aronson, who earned his doctorate from Pitt in 2003. It was still the template for all the theaters — and the new movie industry itself — that followed it.

‘It’s like saying Starbucks didn’t invent coffee in a cup, so they didn’t have an impact on our culture,’ Aronson said.

‘It was the effect that mattered. In the Pittsburgh Nickelodeon, clearly everything came together at the right time, and everything took off.’ ”

Interior of the Nickelodeon Theatre, Moving Picture World, November 1907
Interior of the Nickelodeon Theatre, Moving Picture World, November 1907

Cezar Del Valle is the author of the Brooklyn Theatre Index, a three-volume history of borough theatres. The first two chosen 2010 OUTSTANDING BOOK OF THE YEAR by the Theatre Historical Society. Final volume published in September 2014.

He is available for theatre talks and walks in 2015: historical societies, libraries, senior centers, etc.

Now selling “vintage” on Etsy.