The Silver Screen Comes to Life

On this day in economic and financial history...

The motion picture, which has transformed modern storytelling from a primarily verbal and linguistic affair to one largely reliant on visual stimulation, has barely more than a century of history behind it. That history began on Dec. 28, 1895, when the Lumiere brothers (the Wright brothers of the motion picture) produced the world's first commercial movie screening in Paris .

The basic technology for motion pictures had been in development for decades at that time, and Thomas Edison of General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) had developed a motion-picture camera and peephole film viewer combination in 1890 and 1891. However, the Edison viewer was only for one person at a time. The Lumieres developed the cinematograph  to solve the audience problem, and in so doing allowed movies to be projected on a screen for many viewers at once.

The cinematograph and the motion pictures it offered became instant hits. The Lumieres successfully rolled out the technology around the world, exhibiting films in such far-flung locations as India and China as well as in the industrial powers of Europe and the United States. Before long there was a thriving silent-film industry -- "talkies" didn't premiere until the late 1920s.

The early American film industry had roots in New York, near Edison's headquarters. However, Hollywood  became the epicenter of American film in the early 20th century largely as a result of patent disputes, which forced enterprising filmmakers west to escape the lawsuits (or equipment seizures) that were far easier for the rights-holders to pursue in New York.

By the time of the talkies, the famed Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) recognized the importance of film to the American economy. This recognition proved somewhat fleeting. In 1925 , the first pure film company, Paramount Famous Lasky , was added to the index. It later became Paramount Pictures, which is now part of Viacom (NASDAQ: VIA  ) , but it only remained part of the index until 1932. It was not until Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) joined the index in 1992 that the Dow again had a true film company among its ranks.

Knights of Labor Day
Americans are used to celebrating Labor Day in September, but the very first "Labor Day" celebration actually took place on Dec. 28, 1869 . That day, an underground tailor's union known as the Knights of Labor held ceremonies commemorating their founding in Philadelphia . The Knights of Labor grew quickly from these humble beginnings, and within two decades became a national organization with nearly a million members .

The Knights of Labor faded quickly after violent strikes damaged their public image, and by the turn of the 20th century were virtually defunct. However, its legacy lives on in the eight-hour day (heavily pushed by most labor organizations of the 19th century ) as well as in other labor reforms that granted more rights to downtrodden populations. The first true September Labor Day was celebrated in 1882 (sources conflict as to who came up with this date first), when the Knights of Labor were near the peak of their strength.

Stuck on Band-Aid
One of Johnson & Johnson's (NYSE: JNJ  ) most iconic products earned its patent on Dec. 28, 1926 . The Band-Aid had been developed six years earlier by Earle Dickson, a resourceful J&J employee with a klutzy wife , whose kitchen catastrophes often required a quick and simple wound dressing. A strip of adhesive with a gauze pad in the center seemed to do the trick, and the idea was passed along to Dickson's superiors, who supported Band-Aids through the patent process

The product didn't catch on too quickly -- in its first year of production, Band-Aids generated a pitiful $3,000 in sales. However, J&J's strategy of offering free product to scout troops and soldiers during World War II helped make Band-Aids a household name. By the early 1960s, Band-Aids were generating $30 million in annual revenue , and had entered the American lexicon as shorthand for quick temporary fixes. Over 100 billion Band-Aids were sold by 2001, backed by the infectious "stuck on Band-Aid" jingle -- which was originally written, apparently, by Barry Manilow . 

Johnson & Johnson's got more than its fair share of instantly recognizable health brands in its stable. Nearly all, however, are old products, like Band-Aids and Tylenol. The company may need something big to move the needle on its stagnant stock, but what will it take? The Motley Fool's premium research service has sent our best health care analysts to dig deep into J&J, and we've compiled our findings into an exclusive in-depth report that can help long-term shareholders and prospective investors alike. Click here to subscribe now, for the information you need.


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