Formed by Samuel Hutchinson, Charles Hite and John Freuler, the American Film Manufacturing Company was incorporated in 1910 and held the distinction of being the only independent film company in Chicago. Hite had years of film experience already behind him, as the owner of the C.J. Hite Moving Picture Company, the C.J. Hite Film Rental Company and co-owner (with Hutchinson) of the H&H Film Service Company. When the American name was announced in the fall of 1910, the company already had several recognizable names as part of its stock. Allan Dwan, Charles Ziebarth, J. Warren Kerrigan, G.P. Hamilton and Aubrey M. Kennedy were all raided from Essanay’s Chicago-based cast and crew, while Adrienne Kroell came from the Chicago branch of Selig Polyscope. So extensive was the raid on the Essanay lot, that Essanay co-founder George K. Spoor filed an injunction against the company to prevent any further such raids.
Initially, productions were staged and film at the leased studio of the defunct Phoenix Company at 1425 Orleans St., but by 1911 American’s own studios had been erected at the 312 Ashland block. The studio consisted of three companies, two were based locally and shot in the American studios and in local locations, while the third was sent out west on location to film Westerns. Eventually, that company set up shop first in La Mesa and then in Santa Barbara, forming the western branch. By 1913, filming had ceased in Chicago itself. While the acting company was out on the west coast, the day-to-day business operations, promotions and film printing continued to take place in Chicago. In fact, by 1916, the American offices had once again relocated, moving to 6227-35 Broadway in Chicago.
The company saw success as it added the likes of Mary Miles Minter, Marshall Neilan and Lottie Pickford to its stock, and its serials, like “The Diamond from the Sky,” and its three and four reelers productions consistently drew crowds and favorable reviews from critics. When it began to feel pressure from its distributor (Mutual Film Corporation) to make more features, though, it began to fall apart. Underworked personnel moved to Los Angeles to find work and the World War, the Flu Epidemic of 1918 and the dissolution of Mutual all contributed to American's demise.