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Griffith was born in 1875 into a poor Kentucky family. His father had served as a confederate officer in the civil war, following reconstruction the family had lost almost everything. Griffith's parents were illiterate, but he and his sister were able to learn at sunday schools. He was able to gain a scholarship to Montgomery university in 1896, and further studied plays and music. But Griffith was unable to make good his skills, and in 1898 his money ran out, and he returned to Kentucky. He got a job as a storekeeper in his home town.
In 1900 he was able to take a trip to new york, whilst there he, by chance, was able to see Georges Melies demonstrating his cinematograph. Griffith was inspired, and set about building his own cinematic devices. In 1904 he began producing films in his spare time, and soon became something of a local entrepreneur. However he faced opposition from millionaire inventor Thomas Edison, who was able to sue Griffith.
It was not until 1910 that Griffith received the funding he needed, from media baron William R. Hearst. Hearst's money allowed Griffith to found Griffith Studios. Within months Griffith was able to produce and direct his first film, Maye Pogue. The film proved a success, and by the end of the year Griffiths had produced 10 films.
This success was repeated in 1911, and by 1912 Griffith was producing one film per month. As his success continued, his films began to get longer and longer, and in 1913 he began filming a series of films charting the first 130 years of american history. The Birth of a Nation was the first in the series, a 3 hour long cinematic masterpiece charting american history from the Boston Tea Party to the Mexican Wars. Released in May 1914 in was watched by almost 2/3 of the entire american population.