William Nicholas Selig was a pioneer of the American motion picture industry.
Selig was raised in Chicago. He worked as a vaudeville performer and produced a traveling minstrel show in San Francisco while still in his late teens. One of the actors was Bert Williams, who went on to become a leading African-American entertainer. In 1894 Selig saw Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope at an exhibition in Dallas, Texas. He returned to Chicago, opened a small photography studio and began investigating how he might make his own moving pictures without paying a patent fee to Edison’s company. Selig reportedly found a metalworker who had unwittingly repaired a Lumière brothers motion picture camera and with his help, developed a working system. In 1896 Selig founded the Selig Polyscope Company in Chicago, one of the first motion picture studios in America. He began making actuality shorts, travelogues and industrial films for Chicago businesses.
In 1909 Selig was the first producer to expand film-making operations to the West Coast, where he set up studio facilities in the Edendale area of Los Angeles with director Francis Boggs. Southern California’s weather allowed outdoor filming for most of the year and offered varied geography and settings which could stand in for far flung filming locations around the world. Los Angeles also seemed to offer geographical isolation from Edison’s Motion Picture Patents Company, a cartel which Selig later reluctantly joined.
In 1911 Boggs was murdered by a Japanese gardener employed by the company. Selig was shot and wounded in the arm while trying to defend him.