Hollywood was established in Los Angeles to get away from Thomas Edison.

  • Hollywood clapboard
Hollywood clapboard
Credit: Jari Hindstroem/ Shutterstock

Hollywood most likely wouldn’t be the movie mecca it is today if not for filmmakers traveling west to escape Thomas Edison’s stranglehold on movie production. In 1891, Edison positioned himself at the forefront of the budding film industry after patenting an early camera known as the Kinetograph and a viewer called the Kinetoscope. Two years later, he opened the very first movie studio, Black Maria, in West Orange, New Jersey. He went on to produce nearly 1,200 films over the ensuing decades (including the first Frankenstein movie). To ensure the success of his films, Edison formed an alliance with other industry patent holders to quash competition. Called the Motion Picture Patents Company, the group inundated independent filmmakers with copyright infringement lawsuits to ensure Edison’s iron grip over the industry.

Because Edison’s operations were based on the East Coast, however, his sphere of influence was weaker in Western states such as California. This led independent filmmakers to seek refuge out West, and many settled in a newly incorporated neighborhood of Los Angeles called Hollywood. (The area was initially founded as a religious community before the migration of filmmakers.) Edison’s legal team, however, continued to hound West Coast producers until the 1915 Supreme Court case United States v. Motion Picture Patents Co. ruled that Edison could no longer use his patents to impede or disable rival moviemakers. With Edison’s monopoly finally busted, the film industry began to thrive in its new Hollywood home.

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