Fort Lee is a borough at the eastern border of Bergen County, New Jersey, United States, in the New York City Metropolitan Area, situated atop the Hudson Palisades. As of the 2010 United States Census, the borough's population was 35,345, reflecting a decline of 116 (−0.3%) from the 35,461 counted in the 2000 Census, which had in turn increased by 3,464 (+10.8%) from the 31,997 counted in the 1990 Census. The borough is the western terminus of the George Washington Bridge and is located across the Hudson River from the Manhattan borough of New York City. Named for the site of an early American Revolutionary War military encampment, it later became the birthplace of the American film industry.
Fort Lee is named for General Charles Lee after George Washington and his troops had camped at Mount Constitution overlooking Burdett's Landing, in defense of New York City. It was during Washington's retreat in November 1776 (beginning along a road which is now Main Street) that Thomas Paine composed his pamphlet, The American Crisis, which began with the recognized phrase, "These are the times that try men's souls". These events are recalled at Monument Park and Fort Lee Historic Park.
Fort Lee was formed by an Act of the New Jersey Legislature on March 29, 1904, from the remaining portions of Ridgefield Township. With the creation of Fort Lee, Ridgefield Township became defunct and was dissolved as of March 29, 1904. The Fort Lee Police Department was formed under borough ordinance on August 9, 1904, and originally consisted of six marshals.
America's first motion picture industry
The history of cinema in the United States can trace its roots to the East Coast where, at one time, Fort Lee was the motion picture capital of America. The industry got its start at the end of the 19th century with the construction of Thomas Edison's "Black Maria", the first motion picture studio in West Orange, New Jersey. New Jersey offered land at costs considerably less than New York City, and the cities and towns on the North River (Hudson River) and Hudson Palisades benefited greatly as a result of the phenomenal growth of the film industry at the turn of the 20th century.
Film-making began attracting both capital and an innovative workforce, and when the Kalem Company began using Fort Lee in 1907 as a location for filming in the area, other filmmakers quickly followed. In 1909, a forerunner of Universal Studios, the Champion Film Company, built the first studio. They were quickly followed by others who either built new studios or who leased facilities in Fort Lee. In the 1910s and 1920s, film companies such as the Independent Moving Pictures Company, Peerless Studios, The Solax Company, Éclair Studios, Goldwyn Picture Corporation, American Méliès (Star Films), World Film Company, Biograph Studios, Fox Film Corporation, Pathé Frères, Metro Pictures Corporation, Victor Film Company, and Selznick Pictures Corporation were all making pictures in Fort Lee. Such notables as Mary Pickford got their start at Biograph Studios.
With the offshoot businesses that sprang up to service, the film studios, for nearly two decades Fort Lee experienced unrivaled prosperity. However, just as the development of Fort Lee production facilities were gaining strength, Nestor Studios of Bayonne, New Jersey, built the first studio in Hollywood in 1911. Nestor Studios, owned by David and William Horsley, later merged with Universal Studios; and William Horsley's other company, Hollywood Film Laboratory, is now the oldest existing company in Hollywood, now called the Hollywood Digital Laboratory. California's more hospitable and cost-effective climate led to the eventual shift of virtually all filmmaking to the West Coast by the 1930s. At the time, Thomas Edison owned almost all the patents relevant to motion picture production and movie producers on the East Coast acting independently of Edison's Motion Picture Patents Company were often sued or enjoined by Edison and his agents, while movie makers working on the West Coast could work independently of Edison's control.
Television and film in New Jersey remains an important industry. Since 2000, the Fort Lee Film Commission has been charged with celebrating the history of film in Fort Lee, as well as attracting film and television production companies to the borough.
Birthplace of subliminal advertising
In 1957, market researcher James Vicary claimed that quickly flashing messages on a movie screen, in Fort Lee, had influenced people to purchase more food and drinks. Vicary coined the term subliminal advertising and formed the Subliminal Projection Company based on a six-week test. Vicary claimed that during the presentation of the movie Picnic he used a tachistoscope to project the words "Drink Coca-Cola" and "Hungry? Eat popcorn" for 1/3000 of a second at five-second intervals. Vicary asserted that during the test, sales of popcorn and Coke in that New Jersey theater increased 57.8% and 18.1% respectively.
In 1962, Vicary admitted to lying about the experiment and falsifying the results, the story itself being a marketing ploy. An identical experiment conducted by Henry Link showed no increase in cola or popcorn sales. The claim that the small cinema handled 45,699 visitors in six weeks has led people to believe that Vicary actually did not conduct his experiment at all.
George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal
The Fort Lee lane closure scandal, also known as Bridgegate, was a major political scandal that occurred as a result of the concerns about the actions taken by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and his staff and his Port Authority appointees to create a traffic jam in Fort Lee when dedicated toll lanes for one of the Fort Lee entrances to the upper level on the George Washington Bridge were reduced from three to one from September 9, 2013, to September 13, 2013.
One of the reasons suggested for these actions was to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, for not supporting the Republican Chris Christie in the 2013 New Jersey gubernatorial election. Another theory was that Christie or his aides sought to punish New Jersey Senate majority leader, Loretta Weinberg, who represented the New Jersey district containing Fort Lee, as retribution for the Democrats' blocking of Christie's reappointment of a New Jersey Supreme Court justice. Christie withdrew his appointee consideration and delivered a speech referring to New Jersey Senate Democrats as "animals" just one day before emails were sent by Christie's aides to the Port Authority requesting the lane closures.