Vitagraph was not the only company seeking to make money from Edison's motion picture inventions, and Edison's lawyers were very busy at the end of the nineteenth century filing patents and suing competitors. Blackton did his best to avoid lawsuits by buying a special license from Edison and by agreeing to sell many of his most popular films to Edison for distribution.
The American Vitagraph Company made many contributions to the history of movie-making. It was one of the original ten production companies included in Edison's attempt to corner movie-making, the Motion Picture Patents Company. Major stars included Florence Turner (the "Vitagraph Girl"), Maurice Costello (the first of the matinee idols), and Jean (the "Vitagraph Dog" and the first animal star of the Silent Era). 1903 the director Joseph Delmont started his career with producing westerns, who later got famous with using "wild carnivoras" in his movies — a sensation for that time. Larry Trimble was a noted director of films for Turner and Jean (he was also the dog's owner). John Bunny made films for Vitagraph in the 1910s most of them co-starring Flora Finch, and was the most popular film comedian in the world in the years before Chaplin; his death in 1915 was observed worldwide. In 1910, a number of moviehouses showed the five parts of the Vitagraph serial The Life of Moses consecutively (a total length of almost 90 minutes), making it one of many to claim the title of "the first feature film". A long series of Shakespeare adaptations were the first done of the Bard's works in the U.S. (the surviving A Midsummer Night's Dream is considered one of the classics of the Silent Era). The 1915 feature The Battle Cry of Peace (written and directed by Blackton) was one of the great propaganda films of World War I. Ironically, after America declared war, the film was modified for re-release because it was seen as not being sufficiently pro-war, thus it also earns a place in the history of censorship.
World War I spelled the beginning of the end for Vitagraph. With the loss of foreign distributors and the rise of the great production-distribution houses, Vitagraph was slowly but surely squeezed out of the business. Making matters worse, Vitagraph's leading comedy star Larry Semon was consistently popular, but also consistently draining the company's finances with his spectacular and expensive productions. On April 22, 1925, Vitagraph owner Albert E. Smith sold the company to Warner Brothers for a comfortable profit. The Flatbush studio (renamed Vitaphone) was later used as an independent unit within Warner Brothers, specializing in early sound shorts.