Although this was the first feature film with a Vitaphone soundtrack (therefore being the first film with a completely synchronized soundtrack), it is by no means the first sound film. The first sound film can be dated back to 1895; the process was re-discovered and improved by a French company (using a gramophone) in 1910. In 1913 Thomas A. Edison announced that all the problems of sound films were solved, and showed what he called "the first sound film." As in the earlier efforts, Nursery Favorites (1913) had a gramophone that appeared to synchronize with the film. There was one problem: the film was projected at the wrong speed, and the soundtrack was slowed down inadvertently. This problem happened all too often, and a frustrated Edison abandoned his process. In 1921 D.W. Griffith employed various experts to film a sound introduction for his film Dream Street (1921), which still exists, and the performance went off without a hitch. Griffith soon stopped using sound because he thought it was financial suicide, stating "Only 5% of the world speaks English, so why should I lose 95% of my audience?" However, by 1925 sound had arrived in the form of radio, and it was inevitable that film would follow. Movie studios tried various innovations to keep audiences coming (Technicolor, wide screen, etc.) Warner Brothers, then a lesser film company, bought the old Brooklyn-based Vitagraph Studios and its all-important network of 34 film exchanges (the film distribution network vital to each studio) in 1925 and laid out plans to become a dominant force in the film industry. Sam Warner, one of the four Warner brothers, felt the future was in sound and convinced his skeptical older brother Harry M. Warner (the money man) to throw their lot in with Western Electric's 16" disc-based recording system, forming the Vitaphone Corp. on April 20, 1926, as 70% stockholders. Oddly, Sam never envisioned the system for voice synchronization; rather, he saw it as an economical way to add the added dimension of musical accompaniment. The Vitaphone process solved the synchronization problem electro-mechanically, corresponding the projection speed with the recorded disc by utilizing the same motor for both devices. While cumbersome in both recording (editing was impossible) and play back (discs were fragile), Vitaphone represented the peak of technological innovation, albeit briefly. This film, the first Warner Bros. feature to utilize the Vitaphone process, debuted in a gala premiere on August 6th 1926 and while it was a hit, it signaled an industry format war unrivaled until the 1980s Beta vs. VHS battle. Warner's The Jazz Singer (1927) would become a monster hit 13 months later, solidly proving the public's interest in sound. But there were several sound systems then in development and none were interchangeable and the major studios like MGM and Paramount adopted a wait-and-see attitude that persisted well into 1929. The most practical, Fox's Movietone (sound on film) system, eventually won out and Warners abandoned recorded discs in 1930 but kept the Vitaphone trademark before the public into the 1940s.
At the film's premiere, Will Hays, the then "Czar" and censor of the industry, contributed an on-screen introduction, talking in synchronized sound, greeting everyone in the audience with "Welcome to a new era of motion picture." After that, the New York Philharmonic was filmed playing the overture to "Tannhäuser", violinists Mischa Elman and Efrem Zimbalist Sr., guitarist Roy Smeck, three opera shorts with Giovanni MartinelliMarion Talley and Anna Case, and then the feature. It was a huge success.