The Edison Manufacturing Company (later known as Thomas A. Edison, Inc.) shot this film of a BMT train crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, via Brooklyn to Manhattan, on September 22, 1899. It was among the first pioneering efforts to document New York City using the fledgling medium of motion pictures.
Edison himself took no direct part in his company’s film productions (outside of being the company’s owner, appointing William Gilmore as its vice-president and general manager, and, of course, reaping the profits) but his film crews had permission to shoot almost anything of contemporary interest or importance.
The “Wizard of Menlo Park” had three production facilities: the first was Edison‘s Black Maria studio in West Orange, New Jersey built in 1892; a second, glass-enclosed rooftop studio at 41 East 21st Street in Manhattan, opened in 1901; and, in 1907, a third studio opened at Decatur Avenue and Oliver Place in the Bronx. The studios created over 1200 films (mostly short subjects), many of which were virtually devoid of dynamism and quite stagnant.
Nevertheless, these films were the first commercially exhibited motion pictures in the United States, premiering at Kinetoscope parlors in New York City on April 14, 1894. Featuring a potpourri of subjects (acrobats, parades, dancers, fire rescues, etc.), audiences were enthralled by viewing the world around them reflected in Kinetoscope. In 1896, to keep up with a growing competition that was exhibiting films on screen, the Edison Company developed a Projecting Kinetoscope.
While the jittery, grainy quality of these films, marinated in antiquity, is overwhelmingly apparent, they seem to possess a strange and special element: they seem to inadvertently capture a distant memory in all of its detached and decomposed richness—high-definition could never be as peculiarly faithful to life and to history.
- Thomas Edison Film From Moving Train Shows Subway System Only Marginally Improved In Past 111 Years (VIDEO) (huffingtonpost.com)
- A 1899 Film of A Subway Ride Over The Brooklyn Bridge (laughingsquid.com)
- Train crossing Brooklyn Bridge: Thomas Edison film, 1899 (boingboing.net)
- Early film footage: Brooklyn to Manhattan in 1898 (gointothestory.com)
- How Thomas Edison Didn’t Really Invent The Movies But Gets All The Credit Anyway, the Bastard. (popcultureatemymonkey.com)