James Petrie Chalmers James Petrie Chalmers

James Petrie Chalmers

Orkney has its fair share of authors and other literary figures, but one local man was also hailed as a pioneer of cinema. The story of James Petrie Chalmers is one of great innovation, but unfortunately one which ended in tragic circumstances.

This pioneer of cinema was born in Tankerness in the East Mainland of Orkney in 1866, the son of a crofter. James Petrie Chalmers’s working life began as an apprentice printer/compositor for the Orkney Herald newspaper in Kirkwall. As a young man he emigrated from Orkney to the USA, settling in New York. He gained a place in the history of cinema by championing the new technology of the moving image.

A plaque in Kirkwall, indicating the former offices of the Orkney Herald, where James Petrie Chalmers worked
A plaque in Kirkwall, indicating the former offices of the Orkney Herald, where James Petrie Chalmers worked

At a time when several companies were vying to control the fledgling film industry, Chalmers co-founded, published and edited the first independent trade paper, The Moving Picture World, in 1907. Despite pressure from some powerful companies, he continued to publish independently, highlighting all new inventions, safety standards and reviewing new films therefore allowing access to information for the whole industry.

James Petrie Chalmers died tragically aged 46, at a film convention in Dayton, Ohio, when he mistook the door of a liftshaft in a dark corridor, for that of the projection room. His funeral was attended by leading figures of the film industry and was filmed by Pathe News.

After his death his family continued to run the magazine in his memory.

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