By 1912, independent film producers were forming groups to give more strength in consolidation and help share costs and distribution. Film Supply Company of America had successfully combined the major independent producers on the east coast.
In an attempt to compete, on June 8, 1912, Universal Film Manufacturing Company was formed with the following companies: Charles Baumann and Adam Kessel's New York Motion Picture Company, which controlled Thomas Ince's Bison 101; Mark Dintenfass' Champion Film Company; David Horsley's Nestor Company; Carl Laemmle's Inedendent Moving Picture Company; and Pat Powers' Motion Picture Company.
Bitter fighting immediately broke out over control of the new company causing Baumann and Kessel, who were suppose to lead the company, to leave. This moved Carl Laemmle from secretary to president and in control of the organization.
With Laemmle as president, he found the Taylor estate which was a 230-acre ranch, on the north side of the Hollywood Hills in the San Fernando Valley. With $3,500 down, ground-breaking on 'Universal City' took place June 18, 1914. Using only two 300 foot outdoor stages, 250 films were produced the first year of operation. By 1916 the studio had 5 open air stages and 2 enclosed stages.
In 1918, Laemmle brought in Irving Thalberg as director-general and head of production. Laemmle became known for hiring EVERYONE in his family as employees. This lead to Laemmle being known as 'Uncle Carl'. It is stated that at one time, seventy of Laemmle's relatives were on the payroll.
On March 16, 1920, Carl Laemmle and R. H. Cochrane assumed complete control of the company.
Laemmle was extremely frugal and financed all of his own films. Unlike his rivals Fox, Loew, and Zukor, who competed in acquiring theater chains to secure an outlet for their films, Laemmle refused to go into debt.
Universal enjoyed dominance until 1924 with the merger creating MGM which also took away Universal's head of production Irving Thalberg to become MGM's head of production.
In 1928, Laemmle, Sr. made his son, Carl, Jr. head of Universal City Studios as a 21st birthday present. BUT to his credit, Carl, Jr. persuaded his father to bring Universal up to date. He bought and built theaters, converted the studio to sound production, and steered the studio towards high-quality productions.
With the advent of sound, Laemmle, Jr made bold moves into lavish broadway musicals and moved toward technicolor productions and created the famous 'Universal horrors'. Even though these these lavish productions created tremendous profit, they also created tremendous risks, and Laemmle, Jr. didn't have the frugal management skills that his father did.
By 1935, Universal had to go into debt for the first time to keep try to continue with the lavish productions. When problems arose in 1936 and Universal had trouble paying their bills, Standard Capital Company seized control of the studio on April 2, 1936.
Standard Capital's J. Cheever Cowdin took over as President and Chairman of the Board of Directors and instituted severe cuts in production budgets, outing the Laemmles. Universal moved to smaller-budget productions such as westerns, melodramas, serials and sequels to the studio's horror classics which carried them through the war. On January 6, 1938, Nate J. Blumberg became president of Universal.
In 1945, as the war came to a close, British entrepreneur J. Arthur Rank was looking to expand his American presence. Rank bought a one-fourth interest in Universal. While trying to improve the quality of the studio's output, he instigated a merger in 1946 with International Pictures. Leo Spitz and William Goetz, founders of International, came on to head production at the renamed Universal-International Pictures Inc.
By the late 1940s, Goetz was out, and the studio reverted once more to the low budget films. Once again, the films of Abbott and Costello were among the studio's top-grossing productions. But at this point Rank lost interest and sold his shares to the investor Milton Rackmil, whose Decca Records then bought controlling interest through the New York Stock Exchange. Decca took full control of Universal in the spring of 1952. Milton R. Rackmil, who was president of Decca became president of Universal in July 1952.
In December 1958, MCA, Inc. purchased the Universal City Studio lot for $11 million. MCA's Revue Television Productions relocated to Universal City, and Universal Pictures then leased back its property from MCA. This arrangement lasted three years, until MCA exchanged stock with Decca leading to Universal becoming a subsidiary of MCA, Inc. in 1962.
Under the leadership of Lew Wasserman, MCA/Universal expanded its interests not only in movies and television, but also in areas such as music and recreation throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. The Universal Studios Tour was revived in 1964, and MCA/Universal also became a pioneer in location-based entertainment during the 1970s and 1980s.
In 1991, Matsushita Electrical Industrial Co., Ltd. acquired MCA. Four years later, in June 1995, The Seagram Company Ltd. purchased majority equity in MCA from Matsushita. On December 10, 1996, MCA Inc. was renamed Universal Studios, reclaiming its heritage as one of the industry's oldest and most prestigious movie studios.
In June 2000, Seagram merged with France's Vivendi and Canal+, making Universal Studios part of Vivendi Universal.
Here is a list of films in our archive released by Universal Studios