Excel Projector Corp., est. 1933


Museum Artifact: Excel Film Projector, c. 1940s

Made By: Excel Projector Corp. / Excel Movie Products Inc., 4234 Drummond Place, Chicago, IL [Hermosa]

From the late 1930s to the early 1950s—in that pop cultural gap between the height of the movie palace era and the birth of television—film projectors emerged as the first great visual medium for home entertainment. Along with the ever-present Kodak, several Chicago companies became key suppliers in this new home movie industry, including AmproDeVry, Bell & Howell, Revere, and today’s featured player, the Excel Projector Corp.


When we think about "early home movies," we tend to imagine silent, shaky-cam family vacation footage. In reality, though, some people purchased film projectors without even owning their own movie camera. This was because, much like going to Blockbuster Video in the 1990s or a Netflix binge in the 2010s, movie lovers in the ‘30s and ‘40s wanted to watch high-quality, professionally made films in the comfort of their own living rooms, too. And projectors, for the first time, made this possible.


Now, if you owned a small, motor-operated 16mm Excel projector like the one in our collection (retail price: $17.50 in 1946, or about $212 in 2016 money), you weren’t exactly going to be able to enjoy a feature-length screening of Citizen Kane on it. Instead, companies like Excel would specialize in making one or two-reel shorts—sometimes edited from a much longer, original production—to sell to their customers as companion products to the projector itself. Excel’s president, Max Levey, was ahead of the curve in this department, signing deals to distribute new, edited versions of old Three Stooges, Our Gang, and Krazy Cat films. Since many people hadn’t seen these shorts since they’d originally appeared in movie houses, the chance to actually “own” them and screen them whenever you pleased was quite exciting.


To Excel's benefit, Max Levey had a level of experience with the commercial side of the movie business that many of his tech-centric competitors did not. As far back as 1905, the Ohio native had dipped his toe into the brand new industry of film distribution, purchasing a silent two-reeler called "The Resurrection" and screening it at his own "Pastime" movie theater in Toledo. By 1909, he was in Chicago, beginning a string of work as a salesman with a long list of early film distributors, including the World Film Corporation, Pathe, Metro Picture Corporation, Exhibitors Mutual, and Klimax Pictures—the latter of which made its money re-issuing Charlie Chaplin two-reelers in the 1920s (info from n6ev.com).


Levey was not an imposing character. The son of Ukrainian immigrants, he was a diminutive 5-foot-4 and had lost his right leg below the knee at a young age. But his underdog charm was paired with a bit of a sketchy history when it came to ethics. Shortly before he got into the movie biz in 1905, he'd been fired from a job with a telegraph company in Muskogee, Oklahoma, due to "shortages in his accounts." According to the town's newspaper, the Muskogee Times Democrat, Levey was "a frequenter of the local pool room and played the ponies quite heavy."


In 1914, he got in more hot water, this time in Chicago. At the same time he was working in movie sales for Pathe, Levey was still trying to make a buck in the telegraph game, operating the A to Z Electric Novelty Company—or ATOZ. That year, he was called into district court, facing an injunction for violating a telegraph patent owned by the Mecograph Company. Levey was eventually ordered to pay damages to Mecograph and cease any sale of his own product. That ruling came down, interestingly enough, from a judge named Kennesaw Mountain Landis, future Commissioner of Major League Baseball.


Being banned from the telegraph market certainly didn't slow Max Levey's ascension in Chicago's thriving cinema industry, however. He even earned a profile in a 1919 issue of Moving Picture World, in which he was heralded as the bright new manager of the Exhibitors Mutual Distributing Corporation.


"With such a lengthened experience as a salesman in Chicago," the article read, "it is needless to state that Mr. Levey has acquired a thorough knowledge of the business in that section and a wide acquaintance with exhibitors. He knows every exhibitor by name and has always on the tip of his tongue the seating capacity of every picture theatre in Chicago and immediate surrounding territory. Moreover, he has a good standing with theatre owners. A proof of this is shown by the fact that the State-Lake, Randolph, Alcazar, Rose, and Boston theatres, in the Loop district, are now running Mutual releases."


By the 1930s, Levey was already over 50 years old, but he still knew a good investment when he saw one, and home movies looked like the next great frontier. He launched the Excel Projector Corp. with an original office at 732 S. Wabash Avenue, eventually relocating to more expansive digs at 4234 W. Drummond Place in the Hermosa neighborhood. From there, the company carved out a niche by combining Levey's film distribution business with projector manufacturing and, later, cameras and other accessories. This led to a name change from Excel Projector Corp. to Excel Movie Products, Inc.


 [The former Excel Movie Products factory is still standing at 4234 W. Drummond Place in Hermosa]


World War II also inspired a new, lucrative focus for the company’s film distribution department. At the time, news reels—traditionally shown before feature films at local cinemas—provided just about the only way for Americans to actually see what was going on overseas, from the UK to the South Pacific. Levey astutely realized that if Excel could collect some of the large volume of battlefield films being created at the time and edit the footage down into their own condensed news reels, they could then sell those reels via mail order to give people an ever-evolving catalog—their own personal motion picture library of the war.


Here is how a 1944 issue of Popular Photography magazine described Excel’s process in creating a reel about the recent Normandy Invasion. And yes, they do make it sound more like a Hollywood blockbuster than an actual horrific battle in which people died.


News-of-the-World film editors reviewed thousands of feet of invasion film and picked out the most thrilling action-packed scenes. After this film was compiled, re-edited and titled, the negatives were flown from New York to the News-of-the-World laboratories in Chicago. There, negatives were processed, packaged, and distributed. From the actual filming through every operation until the film reaches the hands of the consumer, not one moment is lost. ‘This assures home movie fans of the latest in news films at the earliest possible moment,’ Max Levey, Excel president, says.


Levey's “News of the World” reels were quite successful indeed, even despite stiff competition from proper movie studios, news outlets, and other camera companies. Unlike some of the early home movies of the ‘30s, most of these films included the capacity for sound, too, often played by hooking up companion audio through a radio speaker.


For many people back on the homefront, these films created the lasting imagery of the war, complete with patriotic fervor.



In the years following the war, the Illinois Watch Case Co. purchased Excel, and eventually moved all Excel manufacturing to its factory in Elgin, at 853 Dundee Avenue. Max Levey was retained after the purchase, but he was in his mid 60s, living in a swank pad at 3270 Lakeshore Drive with his much younger wife Florence. He likely recognized the move to Elgin as the beginning of the end. Television was coming, and nothing was going to be the same.


I’m not sure exactly when the Excel business was officially dissolved, but there are few indications that it survived into the 1960s.











  • N6EV's Amateur Radio Blog

  • The Railroad Telegrapher, Vol 31, 1914

  • The Moving Picture World, March 29, 1919

  • Film World, November 1945

  • Popular Photography, December 1943, September 1944

Please reload

Lost Chicago Factory Map

Help Support the

Made In Chicago Project

Artifact Categories
Company Histories

A.B. Dick Company

A.L. Hansen MFG Co.

Abbott Laboratories

Ace Fastener Corp.

Adams & Westlake Co.

Addometer Co.

Addressograph Company

Adjustable Clamp Co.

Admiral Corp.

Airguide Instrument Co.

Albert Dickinson Co.

Albert Pick & Co.

Allied MFG Co.

American Automatic Devices Co.

American Bird Products Inc.

American Cutlery Co.

American Family Scale Co.

American Flyer MFG Co.

American Metal Ware Co.

American Shoe Polish Co.

American Varnish Co.

Ampro Corporation

Anacin Company

Angel Dainty Dye Co.

Armour and Company

Arrco Playing Card Co.

Automatic Pencil Sharpener Co.

B. Heller & Co.

Bally MFG Co.

Bambino Products Co.

Bell & Howell

Benjamin Electric MFG Co.

Bersted MFG Co.

Bloomfield Industries

Bremner Biscuit Company

Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co.

Bunte Brothers Candy

Burke & James

C. Cretors & Co.

C. H. Hanson Company

Cable Piano Company

Cadaco Inc.

Calculator Machine Company

California Beverage Co.

Calumet Baking Powder Co.

Carl Goldberg Models Inc.

Central Waxed Paper Co.

Central Wholesale Grocers Inc.

Chas. A. Brewer & Sons

Chess Records

Chicago Electric MFG Co.

Chicago Flexible Shaft Co.

Chicago Hardware Foundry Co.

Chicago Mail Order Co.

Chicago Printed String Co.

Chicago Roller Skate Co.

Chicago Specialty MFG Co.

Chicago Telephone Supply Co.

Citation Hat Co.

Citrus Products Co.

Claire MFG Co.

Clipper Products Co.

Columbia Medallion Studios

Compco Corp.

Cracker Jack Company

Crane Company

Curt Teich & Co.

Curtiss Candy Co.

D.B. Fisk & Co.

Dad's Root Beer Co.

Damon MFG Co.

Denoyer-Geppert Co.

Detect-O-Ray Company

DeVry Corporation

Ditto Incorporated

Dowst Brothers Company

E.B. Millar & Co.

E.C. DeWitt & Co., Inc.

E.H. Sargent & Co.

E.J. Brach & Sons

E.K. Pond Company

Ekco Products Co.

Electric Clock Corp. of America

Electric Corp. of America

Elgin National Watch Co.

Empire Spice Mills

Essanay Film Mfg. Co.

Eugene Dietzgen Co.

Excel Projector Corp.

F.B. Redington Co.

F.H. Smith MFG Co.

F.W. Planert & Sons

Fidelitone Inc.

Fitzpatrick Bros.

Flavour Candy Co.

Florsheim Shoe Company

Foley & Co.

G. Felsenthal & Sons

Gateway Engineering Co.

General Television & Radio Corp.

Geo. B. Carpenter Co.

Geo. W. Diener MFG Co.

Gold Eagle Products Co.

Grossman MFG Co.

Hallicrafters Co.

Halsam Products Co.

Halsey Brothers Co.

Hammond Organ Co.

Hanson Scale Co.

Harmony Company

Hedman MFG Co.

Hibbard, Spencer, Bartlett & Co.

Hump Hair Pin MFG Co.

Illinois Bronze Powder Co.

Illinois Cosmetics Co.

Indestro MFG Co.

J.C. Deagan Co.

J.P. Dieter Co.

J.W. Allen & Co.

Jas. P. Marsh Corp.

Jays Foods, Inc.

Johnson Publishing Co.

Kelling Nut Company

Kellogg Switchboard & Supply

Kling Bros. & Co.

Kraft Foods Company

L. H. Thomas Co.

Langson MFG Co.

Liberty Dairy Products Co.

Lincoln Logs

Ludwig Drum Co.

Lyon & Healy

M.A. Donohue & Co.

Mall Tool Company

Mars Incorporated

MasterCrafters Clock & Radio Co.

Maybelline Company

Metal Moss MFG Co.

Mid City Uniform Cap Co.

Monark Silver King Inc.

Morton Salt Company

Motorola Inc.

National Washboard Co.

Nestor Johnson MFG Co.

Northwestern Beverage Co.

O-Cedar Corp.

Oliver Typewriter Co.

Olson Rug Co.

Page Boiler Company

Paymaster Corp.

Peerless Confection Co.

Pelouze Scale & MFG Co.

Peter Hand Brewing Co.

Playskool MFG Co.

Princess Pat Ltd.

QRS Music Company

Radio Flyer

Rand McNally & Co.

Reed Candy Company

Regal Musical Instrument Co.

Reid, Murdoch & Co.

Reliable Paste Co.

Replogle Globes, Inc.

Revere Camera Company

Rival Packing Co.

Rock-Ola MFG Corp.

S&C Electric Co.

Sanford Ink Company

Scholl MFG Co.

Schulze Baking Company

Schwinn Bicycle Co.

Sherman-Klove Co.

Shotwell MFG Co.

Shure Brothers, Inc.

Signode Steel Strapping Co.

Simoniz Company

Simonsen Metal Products Co.

Slingerland Drum Company

Spartus Camera Corp.

Sprague, Warner & Co.

Standard Brewery

Steele-Wedeles Company

Stenographic Machines, Inc.

Stewart-Warner Corp.

Stone Medicine Co.

Sunbeam Corp.

Swanberg MFG Co.

Swedish-American Telephone Co.

T.C. Gleason MFG Co.


Triner Scale & MFG Co.

Turner Brass Works

Turtle Wax Inc.

U-C Lite MFG Co.

Union Publishing House

United Razor Blade Corp.

Universal Medicine Co.

Vail MFG Co.

Val-A Company

Valmor Products Co.

Van Cleef Brothers

Vaughan Novelty MFG Co.

Vee-Jay Records

Victor Adding Machine Co.

Victor X-Ray Corporation

W.D. Allen MFG Co.

W.F. McLaughlin & Co.

W.M. Welch Scientific Co.

Webster-Chicago Corp.


Western Electric Co.

Western Fluorescent Light Co.

White Cap Co.

William Cooper & Nephews Inc.

Williamson Candy Co.

Wilson Jones Company

Wilson Sporting Goods

Wm. E. Pratt MFG Co.

Wm. Meyer Co.

Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company

Woodstock Typewriter Company

Zenith Radio Corp.

Zeno MFG Co.


If you have any insights on this company and its history, or corrections about the details above, please share them below to help us tell a better story.

More Resources


© 2020 by Andrew Clayman. Created with Wix.com