L.A. Camera

Historically this is one of the most significant cameras I have ever had.

Thomas Edison and the Patents Trust put a death grip on the motion picture industry around 1908. They called themselves “The Motion Picture Patents Company”.

Their basic premise was that they had the patent on motion picture film and the mechanical movement inside movie cameras that transported the film. No movie could be made without their approval and they didn’t approve of movies made by anyone outside “The Trust”. They even had “Enforcers” that would go to the set of films in production and destroy the camera right there. They sued everyone that tried to make an independent film. They also made it so no movie was to be made with screen credits. No credits for actors, directors or crew. Credits were to be for the production companies only.

The Trust was powerful up until 1912 when the government overturned the patent on movie film. The trust was still active until October 1915 when they were subsequently found guilty of anti-trust violations and the Edison Trust was dissolved.

During these few years there were a few clandestine camera manufacturers making cameras that tried to supply the demand for the nearly impossible to get movie camera. Most of them either bought motion picture camera parts from England or Europe and then had the wood cases made here in the USA by cabinetmakers, or they took existing cameras and reverse engineered them.

Adolph Frese, pronounced “Freezy”, had a clandestine room in the back of his shop at 544-46 South Spring Street, Los Angeles where they made Williamson copies. This is camera is one of those copies. It comes with the tripod and head as pictured.

George Mitchell of Mitchell Camera fame got his start making motion picture cameras with Frese. He was twenty-three years old and just out of the Army when Adolph Frese hired him around 1910-11. His first responsibility was to head the camera-duplicating department in that back room. It was a risky business, as the Trust thugs were known to be very ruthless. This is one of the reasons that Hollywood got its start on the West Coast as Los Angeles was about as far as one could get from what, at that time, was the center of the motion picture industry, New Jersey. Yes, the weather was good in L.A. but when winter came to the East Coast they would simply go to Florida to shoot. They had been doing that for years. From 1908 through 1912 the only valid reason to shoot in L.A. was to be as far from the Patents Trust Company as possible. In 1911 no one knew how important Hollywood would become.


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