Though in the beginning there were four brothers, only Charles and Émile Pathé have retained a unique place in history. Pathé Frères began by selling Edison phonographs, then moved on to selling a new invention, “animated views.” Along with pioneers Lumière, Méliès, Gaumont and Éclair, Pathé Frères was one of five main French production companies, eventually becoming the most important production house in the world.
Known as “cinema’s first empire,” Pathé Frères built two large studios in the suburbs of Paris (Joinville-le-Pont and Montreuil), extending their business activities vertically and horizontally (the company produced, distributed and exhibited films). In 1907, the “rooster company” (see logo) became the first major European company to establish a film rental system (before this, film prints were sold). Soon after, Pathé Frères joined Thomas Edison in founding the Edison Trust .
Pathé Frères had a significant presence in Canada, often in association with Léo-Ernest Ouimet . Ouimet benefited from this association through the distribution of comedies starring Harold Lloyd (“Lonesome Luke”) and serials produced by Pathé’s American branch. Ouimet also produced a Canadian version of Pathé’s famous actualities under the title British-Canadian Pathé News.
From 1918 to 1928, Pathé Frères’ empire gradually fell apart. The First World War (1914-1918) delivered a significant blow to the home production company in France, setting the stage for Hollywood to become the new dominant force.