I guess I never realized how advanced motion pictures were in 1902. It was still very much a novelty, but they were able to capture surprisingly clear and good length footage. In fact, there were actually one reel movies being made in 1902 (one reel means the entire movie fit on a single reel of film, about 11-12 minutes). For an example of a movie made in 1902, click to see A Trip to the Moon, by Georges Melies, that is based on several stories by Jules Verne. One thing that was funny about the film is how they evidently didn’t realize in 1902 that there was no atmosphere on the moon. The footage was presented in black and white and also in color (hand-tinted).
But moving pictures were not only used to tell stories, but also to record the daily scene. I find these examples especially interesting, just because they show how people dressed and what places like New York looked like and what it was like to walk across the street to work every day. I was actually just reading a book called The Race Underground: Boston, New York and the Incredible Rivalry That Built America’s First Subway, by Doug Most. The book, of course, is mostly about building the subway in Boston and New York, but also is about the traffic concerns in those two cities and how the electric trolley was invented.
Traffic, evidently, was simply dreadful in the late 1800s. I always thought of traffic as a uniquely modern problem, but there were actually so many horse-drawn trolleys, carriages and pedestrians that it could take over an hour to get across either city. The subway was meant to relieve the awful traffic and the electric trolley was meant to relieve the streets of the piles of horse manure. Cities considered many alternatives – cable cars, steam trolleys, elevated trolleys that cluttered the city skyline along with the numerous electric wires strung everywhere – but electricity was ultimately considered the best option, and also the cleanest in a subway (London used steam-powered trolleys in their subway, but the steam made the ride unpleasant). New York’s subway was finally opened in 1904.
Below here is an example of an electric trolley ride through New York City, filmed sometime in the early 1900s.
This next video is from 1902, taken from an electric tram (British term for trolley). in Bradford, England It is fascinating to watch people’s reactions to the camera. Most people look curious, but not unduly perturbed. Two men who are part of the company filming can also be seen walking alongside it and talking to people.
Also 1902, this was taken by Thomas Edison’s company along a beach at Morecambe, England. There are several children running alongside it and the narrator points out how the women are dressed in a mixture of black (mourning for the death of Queen Victoria, who died in 1901) and summer clothes.
I like this one a lot because it is so obvious that the people in the town of Wigan are more interested in the camera than in the steam-powered tram and it is wonderful to see their enthusiasm.