17 of the World’s Oldest Films, Captured by Thomas Edison

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Thomas Edison was a man of firsts. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that he built the first movie studio in 1893 (called the Black Maria, above). Stocked with a staff of fellow know-it-alls, Edison’s Company made nearly 1200 films. Here are some of Edison’s best oldies, from the first recording of a kiss to the greatest cat video on the internet.

1. Newark Athlete (1891)

Film doesn’t get much older than this! A young boy twirls two Indian Clubs in one of Edison’s earliest experimental film fragments.

2. Fred Ott’s Famous sneeze (1894)

Fred Ott was the jokester of Edison labs, so when Edison needed a model for his new Kinetograph, Ott was the perfect choice. Here, Ott sniffs a pinch of snuff and lets out the sneeze seen ‘round the world. It’s the earliest surviving copyrighted motion picture.

3. Carmencita—The first woman on film (1894)

When Spanish dancer Carmencita brought her saucy act to Edison’s lab, she became the first woman ever to appear in front of a motion picture camera.

4. Annie Oakley Sharpshooting (1894)

"Little Sure Shot" Annie Oakley easily obliterated these targets in Edison’s studio. Oakley and Edison met when he visited the 1889 World's Fair in Paris, where she was performing as part of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.

5. Sandow the Strong Man (1894)

Considered the father of modern bodybuilding, Eugene Sandow could flex some serious muscle.

6. Sioux Ghost Dance: The Native American Film Debut (1894)

Edison’s team was the first to record American Indians with a motion picture camera. Like Oakley, the Sioux here were part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.

7. The World’s First Hand-Tinted Motion Picture (1895)

Broadway dancer Annabelle Moore caused a stir when people caught a peek above her knee in this colorful short. Scandalous!

8. The First Kiss for the Movie Cameras (1896)

Actors May Irwin and John Rice smooch for the camera, reenacting a scene from the musical The Widow Jones. It caused an uproar. Not only was it one of the first commercial films shown to the public, it was also the first to capture a kiss.

9. The Sutro Baths (1897)

When San Francisco’s Sutro baths opened in 1896, it was the largest indoor swimming complex in the world. It seems people weren’t on their best behavior there.  

10. Wreckage of the Battleship Maine (1898)

In February 1898, the U.S. Battleship Maine exploded in Havana Harbor and ignited the Spanish-American War. This footage by William Paley roves around the wreckage.

11. The First Ballgame on Film (1898)

Possibly the first recording of America’s pastime, ballplayers donning “Newark” jerseys chug to first base.

12. Street-side Acrobatics (1898)

Break dancing has been around longer than you think!

13. The World’s First Car Parade (1899)

The modern automobile was born in 1886, so it was only a matter of time before people started dedicating entire parades to them. Here, Edison’s team captures the first annual automobile parade in Manhattan.

14. What Happened on 23rd Street? (1901)

As trolleys, horse-drawn carriages, and dapper men amble down a dusty NYC street, a couple—two actors—walk to the camera and pause at an air vent. According to the Edison Company’s film catalog, “The young lady’s skirts are suddenly raised to, you might say an almost unreasonable height, greatly to her horror and much to the amusement of the newsboys, bootblacks and passersby.” You be the judge.

15. A Bustling Fish market (1903)

Health inspectors patrol this street market in the Lower East Side—once a hub for Jewish commerce—as peddlers and customers bicker. Can you imagine what they’re saying?

16. The Oldest Existing Footage of a Football Game: Princeton and Yale (1903)

Although 50,000 fans were in the New Haven stands, the visiting Tigers got the W, winning 11-6. The action starts at 2:13.

17. The Greatest Video of All-Time (1894)

Behold! The King of Cat videos!

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September 5, 2013 - 7:00pm
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