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Motion-picture and still photographers on the White House lawn, 1919

Courtesy of Library of Congress

Motion-picture newsreels were an important means of mass communication from the 1920s through the late 1940s. By the 1930s, some 85 million Americans attended one of 17,000 movie theaters each week. At most film screenings, these moviegoers saw newsreels--short subjects, updated twice a week--from five companies: Fox Movietone, News of the Day, Paramount, RKO-Pathé, and Universal.

The newsreel helped the film industry cement political connections with Washington. And it gave many Americans their first look at the "performance" of presidential speeches and addresses, projecting personality in a way that would become increasingly familiar through radio and television in the coming years.

This Akeley newsreel camera belonged to Joseph W. Gibson, a cameraman whose career started in 1914 at New Jersey's Fort Lee Studios. He subsequently worked for five news organizations, and used the camera from 1935 to 1959. The tripod is a reproduction.
The Trans-Lux Theater on Broadway in Manhattan, shown here in 1931, presented a changing program of newsreels lasting about forty-five minutes.
Theater entrance advertising "Speeches by Wm. H. Taft."

Courtesy of Brown Brothers

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