John P. Harris
Members of the Pennsylvania Senate from the 45th District
In office
Preceded byNorman Whitten
Succeeded byFrank Joseph Harris
Personal details
John Paul Harris

(1871-12-04)December 4, 1871
DiedJanuary 26, 1926(1926-01-26) (aged 54)
Pennsylvania State Capitol
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Political partyRepublican
ProfessionMovie theater owner

John Paul Harris (December 4, 1871 – January 26, 1926) was a Pittsburgh businessman and politician who opened the world's first theater devoted entirely to showing Motion pictures.[1]

Business career

Harris was born on December 4, 1871 to John and Bridget (Gaughan) Harris.[2] Harris' father was a vaudeville producer and Harris' work in the entertainment industry began with his father's company, Harris Comedy and Specialty Co. In 1897 Harris Comedy and Specialty Co. showed Pittsburgh's first motion picture. On June 19, 1905, Harris and his brother-in-law, Harry Davis opened a small film theater on a Smithfield Street storefront in Downtown Pittsburgh. The theater, known as the Nickelodeon, was the first devoted exclusively for the exhibition of movies.[3] The Harris-Davis company owned theaters in Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, and New York.[4]

In addition to owning theaters, Harris held shares in two National League baseball clubs. From November 15, 1910 to December 17, 1910, Harris served as the principal owner of the Boston Doves.[5][6] Following his sale of the Boston club, Harris purchased interest in the Pittsburgh Pirates.[6][2]


In 1922, Harris was elected to represent the 45th District in the Pennsylvania State Senate to fill the unexpired term caused by the death of Norman Whitten.[2][7] In 1924, Harris was elected to a full four-year term. In 1925, Harris became a support of Governor Gifford Pinchot. Although the two had many differing views, Harris supported Pinchot's efforts to enforce prohibition and enact election reform. On January 26, 1926, Harris suffered a heart attack during a legislative hearing on election reform bills. He died soon thereafter.[4] He was succeeded in the Senate by his brother Frank Joseph Harris.[2]


The Harris Theater in Pittsburgh is named in honor of Harris.[8]

The John P. Harris Film Society, Point Park University's cinema club, is named after Harris.[9]


  1. ^ "Testament of Citizenship". The Pittsburgh Press. August 31, 1934. Retrieved 2010-11-06.
  2. ^ a b c d "John Paul Harris". Pennsylvania State Senate. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  3. ^ Timothy McNulty (June 19, 2005). "You saw it here first: Pittsburgh's Nickelodeon introduced the moving picture theater to the masses in 1905". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2010-11-06.
  4. ^ a b "Senator Drops Dead in Committee Room". The New York Times. January 27, 1926.
  5. ^ "A New Owner For Boston Doves". Portsmouth Daily Times. November 15, 1910. Retrieved 2010-11-06.
  6. ^ a b "Boston Nationals Sold". Boston Evening Transcript. December 17, 1910. Retrieved 2010-11-06.
  7. ^ "Burgess Indorses Senator Harris". The Pittsburgh Press. March 26, 1924. Retrieved 2010-11-06.
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-11-20. Retrieved 2010-11-06.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ "JOHN P. HARRIS SOCIETY". Point Park University. Point Park University. Archived from the original on 29 September 2012. Retrieved January 29, 2013.