By 1903, the actuality film had reached its peak; in 1903, the Edison and Biograph companies, combined, registered three hundred fifty one actuality films for copyright protection. By 1908 that number had dropped to two.
By 1911, movie theaters had proliferated, spreading out from the cities to small-town America. The first full-length documentaries and newsreels were being produced. Directors such as D.W. Griffith and Edwin S. Porter were making tremendously popular dramatic movies and the actuality film had all but disappeared from the American motion picture scene.
The American Memory films include a number of actualities. Included are subjects that were popular not only in the peep show parlors of the 1890s but much earlier, in nineteenth century postcards, slides, stereographs, and magic lantern shows: panoramic views, civic events, parades, new buildings, new inventions, policemen and firemen in action, risque novelties, and exotic looking immigrants. Without question, early movie-makers borrowed many of their themes and conventions from nineteenth century commercial photography and early audiences, while amazed by the moving images, were very familiar with the subject matter.