Nickelodeon Theater


The Nickelodeon Theater

What can a nickel buy? In today’s world, not much, but in 1905, a nickel could purchase a one-pound loaf of bread, a ticket to ride on an urban trolley, a glass of draft beer… and a seat in a movie theater. Theaters in that time, however, were called something entirely different: a combination of the Greek odeon, meaning theater, and the five-cent price moving picture theaters charged for their shows – nickelodeon.

Nickelodeons began as a showman’s next step to making it rich in America. Harry Davis, born in England in 1870, immigrated to the United States at the age of nine and two years later entered the world of showmanship as a carnival hustler. He quickly learned effective business skills and how to appeal to crowds, discovering a passion for the field. By the time inventions such as Edison’s Kinetoscope, the French Cinematograph, and the American Vitascope entered the scene, Davis was a successful owner of several “dime museums,” penny arcades, and playhouses in a variety of locations. The entertainment value of moving pictures became apparent to Davis when he began showing them at these various locations as additional attractions. It seemed that everyone loved the movies, so enthralled by the lifelike images projected onscreen that one man reportedly drew his pistol and shot the image of a robber during one film. Davis soon realized that movies were the next “big thing” to hit the entertainment world and so decided to showcase them separately from his other enterprises. He teamed with Pittsburgh native John P. Harris, a respected employee and his brother-in-law, to open the Nickelodeon on Smithfield Street in Pittsburgh on June 19, 1905.