Essanay Studios – Chicago, Illinois - Atlas Obscura

Essanay Studios

This landmark of the Chicago silent film industry may not be in the picture business anymore but it still stands proudly. 


Essanay Studios was one of the United States’ foremost film studios for just under a decade, even producing the famous Charlie Chaplin film, The Tramp.

Essanay Studios was founded in 1907 by George K. Spoor and Gilbert M. Anderson, who named the studio after their initials (S and A—Essanay). The studio produced silent films by many of the greatest stars of its day, including Charlie Chaplin, Gloria Swanson, and Gilbert “Broncho Billy” Anderson, who went on to win honorary Academy Awards for his time at the studio. Essanay also produced America’s first cinematic depictions of Sherlock Holmes and A Christmas Carol, as well as the first film about Jesse James and some of the world’s earliest animated cartoons. Most famously, Essanay produced Charlie Chaplin’s classic film, The Tramp in 1915.

As America’s film industry moved west, Essanay eventually closed down in Chicago, and was absorbed into another studio. The film industry leapt forward and many of Essanay’s pioneering films were forgotten. 

Luckily, their former home was not, and the building continued to be preserved and looked after as a historical landmark. Although it now serves as Essanay Centers, a part of St Augustine College, the city has shown great dedication to preserving this relic of the silent film industry, declaring it a Chicago Landmark in 1996. It now holds an auditorium named after Charlie Chaplin.

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