Charles Pathé

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Charles Morand Pathé (born December 26, 1863 in Chevry-Cossigny , † December 25, 1957 in Monte Carlo ) was a French entrepreneur and a pioneer in the film industry. In addition, he also made an outstanding contribution to the spread of the phonograph in his country.



The third son of a butcher shop owner was born in a market town in the Seine-et-Marne department . His parents were Jacques and Émilie Pathé. Charles had three brothers and two sisters. In 1865 the family moved to Vincennes . The boy did an apprenticeship with his father. After a lengthy military service, Charles Pathé tried his luck in Argentina at the age of 26, but returned to Paris two years later . In October 1893 he married. At that time he was earning his living from a lawyer.

Beginnings of the career

At a fair in Vincennes he saw a phonograph by Thomas Alva Edison , which caused a sensation among the visitors. He borrowed some money, bought one of these miracle specimens, and took his wife to the Monthéty fair, east of Paris. At 20 centimes admission, at the end of the day on September 9, 1894, he had 200 francs in his pocket. But Pathé realized that it could be more advantageous to resell the equipment than to demonstrate it yourself. He went to London and bought three more phonographs, which he successfully resold. His wise investment made him money and motivated.

In 1894 he founded with his brother Émile the company Pathé Records . Initially, Charles Pathé wanted to sell the phonograph invented by Thomas Edison to buyers in France, but soon only his brother cared about it. In the meantime, another novelty had appeared, Edison's kinetoscope . Charles drove back to London, bought replica devices and again sold them at fairgrounds. He now devoted all of his interest to cinematography, which seemed to him to be very promising, and expanded the trade beyond phonographs to include projectors and films. After a trip to the USA, he had contractually secured the distribution of the kinetoscope and some of Edison's films exclusively for France.

Record and film production

On September 28, 1896, the brothers created the Société Pathé Frères in an office in Paris to enter the film business as producers and distributors. The success made him look for new donors. On December 28, 1897, the brothers expanded their previous company "Etablissements Pathé Frères" to the company "Compagnie Générale de Cinématographes, Phonographes et Pellicules" thanks to financial support from the financially strong Claude Grivolas . The two directors, Émile for the turntable division and Charles for the cinematographers, made the company flourish and generate worldwide sales. The small production facility in Vincennes, established in 1896, was at full capacity, and in 1898 another factory for cylinder production for phonographs was built in Chatou near Paris. In the early years, phonographs determined the company's success. In August 1900, the company merged with the addition of competitors to form the “Compagnie Générale de Phonographes, Cinématographes et Appareils de Précision” . From now on, Charles Pathé was able to use all the possibilities of his profession as an entrepreneur.

This production company had sufficient capital and income to penetrate all stages of the film business: the production of films, cameras and projectors, the technical and laboratory production, the distribution of copies and their storage, and the construction of movie theaters. She managed to break the monopoly of George Eastman in the raw film production of negative and positive copies.

In the 1890s, Pathé set about coloring the black and white films. An army of employees was involved. Paint was applied by hand using stencils to the many kilometers of film strips. The strips met with lively audiences. The Lumière brothers gave Charles Pathé all rights and patents for their film technology for a purchase price in 1897.

From 1902 to 1904, Charles Pathé, the driving force behind the company, set up new studios and film factories and opened corporate offices across Europe and the United States. Film production rose from 70 pieces in 1901 to 500 pieces in 1903 to almost 800 strips in 1912. In 1905 the company received the logo of the Gallic rooster , a trademark that is still known today .

Charles Pathé also initiated the first French magazine to report on film news. He had also understood that renting the films for a maximum of four months promised more profitable employment than selling the finished films. From 1907 he practiced a business method that was already common in the USA and Great Britain.

From 1901, Charles Pathé entered into a relationship with Ferdinand Zecca , who had previously worked as a traveling actor, a creative head who, as a commissioned director, gave the Pathé films a recognition value with his own line and met the general public taste in his choice of topics. From 1905 the company had experienced specialists such as screenwriters, film outfitters, cameramen and directors and operated several film studios. Instead of being presented at fairs, films were gradually shown in buildings and the Omnia-Pathé was the first cinema hall in Paris, opened on December 15, 1906.

From 1909 the regular weekly film show " Pathé-Journal " was produced and a few months later a US and an English edition were created.

In 1911, Charles Pathé moved into a purpose-built house in Vincennes, presumably in order to better control the fate of the large film-making factory that was built there in 1906.

In 1912 a film strip in 28 mm format was realized with the Pathé KOK based on an idea expressed by Charles Pathé in 1909. Pathé also invented the 9.5 mm format for the first amateur films.

Both Pathé companies, Pathé Records and the former Pathé Frères , developed into dominant international players in their respective business sectors. The film company can claim the fame of being the first in the world to have industrialized film production. Around 1910 it was the world's largest company in the film industry with a total of 6,500 employees, active in various countries. In the USA, before the First World War , Pathé temporarily outperformed domestic film production, which was still under construction, with its imported films.

After the First World War

The First World War impaired Pathé's business development. In 1926, Charles Pathé was forced to restructure his company, which also meant selling the raw film factory to Kodak .

In 1929 Charles Pathé sold his shares and retired to Monaco , where he spent the rest of his life. The company ran into trouble in the years that followed and was bankrupt in 1939. The successor company Nouvelle Pathé-Cinéma SA was founded in 1944 and continued the great tradition of film production.

Charles Pathé was buried in Vincennes in the Ancien Cimetière ( Old Cemetery ).



  • Charles Pathé & Léon Gaumont . The cinema fathers. (OT: Charles Pathé et Léon Gaumont. Premiers géants du cinéma. ) Documentary, France, 2015, 86:03 min., Book: Emmanuelle Nobécourt, Gaëlle Royer, Stéphane Audeguy, directors: Emmanuelle Nobécourt and Gaëlle Royer, production: Program33, Gaumont Pathé Archives, arte France, Planète +, first broadcast: August 16, 2016 by arte, table of contents by arte, ( memento of August 17, 2016 in the Internet Archive ), review:.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Photo: The grave of Charles Pathé. In:
  2. Tobias Sunderdiek: "Charles Pathé & Léon Gaumont". When France invented the cinema: great documentary. In: NOZ , August 16, 2016.