The Warner Brothers film company, which is still existing today, was founded in 1905 and officially registered in 1923. It was created by four Wonsal brothers: Hirsz Mojżesz (Harry Warner, 1881-1958), Aron (Albert Warner, 1884-1967), Shmul (Sam Warner, 1888-1927) and Izaak (Jack Warner, 1892-1978). The first three were born in Krasnosielc, a village 90 kilometres north of Warsaw. The youngest of the four, Jack, was born in Canada. In Krasnosielc, the family used many surnames: Wonsal, Wonsker, Wonskolaser, Woron, Wrona. The brothers' father, Benjamin Wonsal, was a shoemaker. Her mother, Perla Leja (née Eichelbaum), was mainly responsible for the home and raising her children.
There were few inhabitants in Krasnosielc, but at least a few shoemakers, so the family's financial situation was difficult. Encouraged by letters from an acquaintance who had emigrated two years earlier, Benjamin packed a suitcase and, together with his brother-in-law Alter Eichelbaum, set out for the United States in January 1888. A year and a half later, the rest of the family joined him on the ship "Hermann", sailing from Bremen. On arrival in Baltimore they all adopted the surname Warner, with which Benjamin signed his name in exile.
Ben had no luck in business and found it increasingly difficult to support his expanding family. At one point, at the urging of his brother-in-law, he gave up shoe-gelding and went with him for work to Virginia, where a railway was being built to connect the two coasts of the United States. He was doing well until his brother-in-law ran off taking the previous month's earnings. Ben returned to the workshop in Baltimore. After struggling with poverty for two years, he moved with his family to Canada, where he took up buying and selling leather. He met a similar fate there. When it seemed that he had finally put away a satisfactory sum, another accomplice robbed him and fled.
In 1896 the Warners returned to the States and settled in Youngstown, Ohio. Ben opened a cobbler's shop there, repairing shoes on the spot, where his eldest son Harry was apprenticed. One customer who was keen to use this service was the head of a local bank, who offered Ben a loan to develop his workshop. Benjamin invested the money he earned in the grocery shop where Harry worked for a while. For a mistake he made while placing orders, his eldest son was dismissed. In protest, he moved out of the house and took up... cycling. He even won a couple of medals, but was unable to support himself.
The Warners' second son, Albert, also caught the cycling bug - and this was a period of growth and unprecedented popularity for the sport. So he persuaded Harry (then selling meat at a local butcher's shop) and Sam to open a bike shop together. In time they also opened a bowling alley. Unfortunately, the new investment did not bring the expected profits, and the three of them could not live off the shop alone. Albert and Sam had to seek employment elsewhere. Albert became a door-to-door salesman, a soap merchant.
Sam, the youngest of three brothers born in Krasnosielc, was drawn to adventure. Fascinated by travelling jugglers and artists performing at fairs, he decided to become one of them. Travelling from town to town, he worked successively as a snake charmer and a live shield in an egg-throwing contest at a target. When egg prices went up sharply, the stall owner replaced them with hard baseballs. Badly bruised, Sam resigned from his job and then entered into a partnership with a young customer he met in the family bike shop. Together they acted as “fate tempters”. The trick they came up with was to ride a bicycle down a ladder from the tower. After a few months, the partner died in a fatal accident and Sam was forced to look for work again. He was then employed as an assistant engine driver on the railway.
Even in a running locomotive, Sam did not abandon his dreams about show business. He met an indebted alcoholic gambler who was forced to sell his projector quickly. Sam could not afford to buy it himself. After a family discussion, together with Albert and Harry, they decided to invest in equipment. It turned out that their collective funds were still insufficient. The father, against his wife's opinion, supported his sons and gave them the family gold watch, but even this was not enough to cover the purchase. In the end, Benjamin pawned their only means of transport, a horse, and in this way the brothers gained the missing sum.
Along with the projector, they received one copy of The Great Train Robbery , directed by Edwin S. Porter. The first cinema was an old borrowed tent which the Warner brothers installed at the back of the house. To the displeasure of the neighbours, who began to be disturbed by the crowds and noise, more and more people came to the screenings. When the police began to be called, the brothers decided to move the business to the nearby town of Niles. Today it is regarded as the birthplace of Warner Brothers.
They didn't stay long in Niles, mainly because the city's safety inspector arrived for an inspection with a lighted cigar in his hand and caused an explosion that claimed his life. Fearing retribution from the family of the deceased, the Warners packed up, and with stops in Steubenville, Girard, Warren, Medville, made their way to New Castle, Pennsylvania. The reason for their frequent moves was the lack of repertoire; they still only had one film.
This single copy and a portable projector provided work for three brothers and a sister. Rose sold tickets, Al and Sam operated the machine, and the youngest of the siblings, Jack, entertained the audience with singing as the older brothers changed film reels. Jack had a nice, strong voice. He adopted the stage name Leon Zuardo for publicity purposes. In order to raise the ticket price, the brothers assured the small-town audience that they had brought the famous Italian singer especially for them. Jack a.k.a. Leon Zuardo would go in front of the screen and present the audience with several minutes of wish concerts. Everyone was happy until Jack began to undergo his voice change.
In New Castle, Albert and Sam decided to change the business concept. Instead of moving from town to town with one film, which was expensive and inconvenient, they persuaded Harry to sell the bike shop and buy a building in the town centre with them. There, in 1905, the brothers opened their first "real" cinema. They proudly named it “The Cascade Movie Palace”. Referring to the place as a “palace” was a gross misuse. Although the façade of the building, decorated with Byzantine arches and Greek columns, was impressive, the inside was dirty and there was an unpleasant smell. They borrowed chairs from the funeral parlour next door. The investment turned out to be so successful that a few months later the Warners already owned a second cinema with an equally pompous name - "The Bijou (The Jewel)”.
As the company grew, the Warners came to the conclusion that the future lay not in owning cinemas but in film distribution. So they sold both halls to move to Pittsburgh in the spring of 1907. There they founded The Duquesne Amusement Supply Company, one of the first film distribution companies in the United States. Jack - then seventeen years old - joined his older brothers. Since he no longer had to sing for a cinema audience, he became a warehouseman bearing the proud title of "quality inspector".
The investment proved so lucrative that the brothers decided to open another distribution company. This time in Norfolk, Virginia. They called it The Duquesne Film Exchange. Harry and Al remained in Pittsburgh. Sam and Jack moved to Norfolk where they began by publishing a newspaper entitled - how original - “The Duquesne Film Noise”. In a short period of time, Warners managed to conclude agreements with over two hundred producers for the exclusive distribution of their films to cinemas. They did not realise that by doing so they would expose themselves to a company that controls patents related to the cinema industry. Edison Trust already had its own distribution network, which enabled it to dominate the market. Within a short time both Warner companies ceased to exist.
After selling both businesses to Edison, the brothers met in New York to agree on a strategy for the future. Harry, whose responsibilities included overseeing his siblings' money, figured it was time to produce his own films. For this purpose, they rented an old, closed steel mill in St. Louis, Missouri. Sam and Jack became producers. However, Missouri proved to be an unfortunate place to develop a business - it had neither the tradition nor the facilities for film production. The first two films were unsuccessful. The brothers moved to New York, at the time the capital of the film industry.
For the next two or three years the brothers did not do too well. The films they were making brought losses. In 1913, another emigrant related to the film industry, Sam Goldwyncontributed to the development of Hollywood by creating the first feature-length film. Recognising its potential, the Warners decided to gradually move away from the one- or two-reel films (10 to 20 minutes) that were popular at the time.
At the end of 1916. Harry Warner, without consulting his brothers, allowed the shooting of the five-reel film entitled Inherited Passions. The director hired for this project ran away with the money. Without waiting for the shooting to be completed, the youngest of the brothers, Jack, edited the film himself and released it. The production entered cinemas in the same week that the United States entered the First World War. Most young men were preparing for the front and had no time to think about entertainment. The Warner brothers' company began to be seriously threatened with bankruptcy.
They were rescued from their predicament by another Polish émigré, Mark M. Dintenfass, who, together with Henry Garlick, financed their next production entitled My Four Years in Germany. The film's script was based on the diaries of a former American ambassador to Germany and his failed attempts to stop the outbreak of the First World War. The film, which had a budget of $ 50,000, grossed $ 1.5 million in a short period of time. It was the Warner brothers' first real success.
Shortly thereafter, they decided to expand production on the West Coast. Sam moved to Los Angeles, where he rented buildings and shooting halls, and Jack opened offices in San Francisco. Albert and Harry stayed in New York. Al took charge of organising the concerts and Harry, as before, managed the family's assets. Soon conflicts began to arise between the brothers. Born already on the American continent, Jack called his brothers “Polish fools” and accused them of lacking in imagination. Sam, meanwhile, has fallen into a gambling habit, falling more and more into debt. He eventually closed the Northern California office and moved to Los Angeles. There he invested unsuccessfully in oil exploration, consistently depleting the company's resources.
The brothers were saved from another financial disaster by a dog. A series of films featuring an Alsatian sheepdog who heroically served on the front-line in France helped lead the studio out of debt. Nevertheless, competition in the film industry was becoming increasingly acrimonious and the Warner studio was losing ground. The desperate brothers decided to invest their last money in a new technology, radio. On 3 March 1925, the Warner brothers' company became the owner of one of the first three radio stations in Los Angeles, KFWB.
Through their experience with radio, the brothers were the first to see the potential of sound cinema. Their first film with synchronised dialogue was The Jazz Singer. In 1927, the day before the film was to have its première in New York, the oldest of the brothers, Sam, died. Because Jewish religious regulations and tradition require that the dead be buried as soon as possible, no one from the family was able to attend the première screening. At the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929, The Jazz Singer was excluded from the competition. The Academy Board believed that this would be unfair towards silent films. Instead, it got a special Oscar for technical innovation, namely the introduction of sound.
In the meantime, there was a major conflict in the Warner family, resulting in Sam's widow being stripped of her inheritance rights and Jack becoming even more estranged from his brothers. Looking for a way to beat the competition, the youngest of the brothers opted for innovation. In 1929, Warner Brothers released the first sound film in full colour, On with the Show. In early 1930, without consulting their youngest brother, Al and Harry bought the Brunswick Records label. Less than a year later, faced with the financial crisis, they had to get rid of it, once again losing a large sum of invested money.
The split in the family has become a fact. Jack, the only one of his siblings living in California, ran the label with a firm hand. He decided which script to send to production, as well as which actor to give the lead role. However, film budgets and studio expenses were decided by his older brothers in New York. Despite internal conflicts, the studio specialised in crime themes and began to generate revenue. However, the good streak did not last long. After a few years, despite receiving Oscars, the label began to decline financially and lose relevance.
In November 1947, Albert, on behalf of Warner Bros., signed the so-called Waldorf Statement, a document giving rise to the mass layoffs of those suspected of left-wing beliefs. Nobody in the family protested. Jack, despite the success of his films, felt unappreciated and expected to have a greater influence on the shape of the company. When Albert publicly announced his intention to sell his part of the business and retire, Jack decided to take the opportunity. With the help of a hired banker, he bought out all the brothers. When the intrigue came to light, Harry suffered a heart attack and then a brain haemorrhage. Jack's act permanently divided the family. When Harry died two years later, in 1958, Jack was forbidden to attend the funeral.
The studio under Jack's stewardship was loss-making, and in 1966 it was sold to the Canadian company Seven Arts Productions. Albert moved to Florida, where he died in 1967. He has not exchanged a word with Jack since Harry's death. In August 1978, after several years of illnesses taking away his faculties, the youngest brother died. The company founded by the brothers from Krasnosielc still exists today under the name Time Warner Co. and remains one of the largest media conglomerates in the world.