To start, this is not a myth propagated by Pittsburghers, but perhaps a somewhat off-the-mark take told by many authors, journalists and historians outside the region.

In 2005, a national, not local, NPR story celebrated the “100th Anniversary of First-Ever U.S. Movie Theater” in Pittsburgh.  The informative article does state “U.S.” possibly to give credit to the film exhibitions by the Lumiere brothers in Paris, France in 1895 using their Cinématographe projector. Exhibitions with other projectors were held in Atlanta (Phantoscope projector), Berlin and Hamburg earlier that same year.  However, these groundbreaking 1895 events are better characterized as film exhibitions and not the establishment of movie theaters.  Others have used the phrase “world’s first” in regards to Pittsburgh.  From the available history, celebrating the anniversary of the world’s first “Nickelodeon” movie theater in Pittsburgh is probably more appropriate.

Venues in Buffalo, New Orleans and Los Angeles pre-date this 1905 landmark and movies had been shown in vaudeville theaters for years.  A prior “nickelodeon” museum in Boston was not a movie venue.

“Nickelodeon” refers to the five cent cost of admission and should not be confused with any viewing machine like the “mutoscope” or any type of juke box.  The popular 1950 song “Music! Music! Music! (Put Another Nickel In)” with the lyrics “put another nickel in, in the nickelodeon” adds to this common confusion.

Western PA quickly became the center of the cinema industry just before the rise of Hollywood as the center of film production. Less than 2 years after the first Nickelodeon in Pittsburgh, the Warner brothers of eastern Ohio opened their first movie theater north of Pittsburgh in New Castle, PA, prior to their migrations to California and New York.  As film critic Bob Modello wrote about the nickelodeon theaters, “… These storefront theaters were, in fact, the most explosive development in the history of entertainment. Within two years, there were more than 8,000 across the country,…”  
https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4707873

Unfortunately, the impact of Pittsburgh as the home of the world’s first “Nickelodeon” movie theater and the subsequent explosion of theaters and, therefore, the explosion of the movie industry that followed appears to be largely unknown in the region.

Equally unfortunate has been the notable decline, struggles and closings of independent movie houses in the region prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and seemingly even out of proportion to the obvious shifts towards at-home digital viewership. The areas surrounding Pittsburgh have experienced a resurgence of drive-in theaters though.

TO BE CONTINUED …

As CineBurgh begins a celebration of the 115th anniversary of the first Nickelodeon on June 19, 2020, and in a necessary delay into 2021, we hope this begins to answer “what’s the deal with CineBurgh?”

Note, that despite this all being relatively recent history, there exists surprising gaps and conflicts of information regarding the historical record.