• Martin Gagnon

The Newsreel - A Brief History

This week I thought it would be fun to share some history on the early beginning of television news by looking at the development of the newsreel. Our historical journey will take us from 19th century France to 20th century Manhattan.

We begin in France in 1895 where Auguste and Louis Lumiere created the world’s first “news film” and showed it two days later. This first “news event” was footage of the annual holiday trip of the Congress of the National Union of French Photographic Societies. Although not very riveting, historians generally agree that it was the moving pictures of this holiday footage which led to newsreels and eventually television news. In 1896, Robert Paul made the first news film in England of the Derby horse race at Epsom Downs.

Next, we jump ahead to 1911 when Charles Pathe began the first weekly newsreel in Europe. Advances in transportation and film processing now made the time between filming and viewing shorter. More advances in film material quickly followed with the biggest change being in film composition. No longer making film out of flammable nitrate, film could be sent by mail. Seeing it as an opportunity, Pathe began showing a daily newsreel in 1914 and an industry was born. In the United States, one newsreel company had a combined 60 offices in Europe and the United States. By the time sound was added in 1926, weekly newsreels were being produced by five big movie companies.

Another milestone happened on November 2, 1929 when the 544 seat Embassy Theatre in Manhattan became the nations first theatre to show nothing but newsreels all the time. For 25 cents a ticket, goers could watch murderer William Peters confess to police or Prince Umberto of Italy survive an assassination attempt.

Technological changes would spell doom for the Golden Age of newsreels (1933 – 1945). Television sets rendered newsreels and newsreel theatres obsolete. On December 26, 1967 the last newsreel was shown in cinemas.

Video Source: Charlie Dean Archives on YouTube

History Sources:

No Time to Think: The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-Hour News Cycle by Howard Rosenberg for History of the Newsreel


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