John Paul Harris
Portrait: Senate Memorium, 1926
John P. Harris is credited with introducing the world to the motion picture theater. The son of John and Bridget (Gaughan) Harris of Pittsburgh, John Paul Harris was born on December 4, 1871. Pioneers in the entertainment business, Harris and his father, John Sr., produced vaudeville shows and introduced Pittsburgh to its first motion picture presentation in 1897. The brief 30-second to five-minute reels showed while customers of an amusement center were entering or exiting from a live Vaudeville act. Harris was apparently the first to realize that; one, a film might capture more entertaining live action itself; and two: customers would pay to watch the film. In 1905, Harris converted his small building into the “Nickelodeon,” a moving picture theater that opened on June 19, 1905. On its first day of business, 450 customers lined up for five-cent tickets and a fifteen minute film; on the second day, 1,500 customers attended. As Timothy McNulty of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes, Pittsburgh became “the epicenter of the film world.” As Harris simultaneously created an “entertainment industry,” he served as Director of the Washington Trust Co.; the Pittsburgh Baseball Club; vice president of the Harry Davis Enterprises Club; president of various Amusement Companies; and owner of the first multi-state theater chain, including Pennsylvania, Delaware, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia. In 1922, he was elected to the Senate of Pennsylvania, filling a vacancy left by the deceased Norman Whitten. Senator Harris served from 1923-1924; reelected Nov. 1924, and served one year and one month until his death in office, January 26, 1926. He was succeeded in the Senate by his brother Frank Joseph Harris.
Bio: Western Pennsylvanians, 218; Timothy McNulty, “You saw it here first,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sunday, June 19, 2005.