People say the 80s was the best decade, and I agree – but for me it’s the 1880s. In that decade video cameras were invented. For obvious reasons it is also when the oldest videos were crafted. Then in 1888 it’s creator recorded this. Filmed in England, it shows a group of people dancing around like a bunch of idiots. There is some debate as to whether they are dancing or just walking – but the old man in the back is clearly dancing. In fact, it just goes to prove that even with more than a century going by, the old white man dance remains unchanged.
This footage is only 3 seconds long, but it kicked off an age of rapid development in film technology. But this was not the oldest video ever – it’s just the oldest known to have survived. The camera was patented in 1886, and before the year was over, the first ever – let’s say “adult” film was recorded. This made me wonder about the other kinds of oldest videos recorded, and that is what this video is about. Here are the oldest videos known to exist.
The first ever tragedy caught on tape is thought to be the launching of the HMS Albion, in 1898. A large battleship that would later see action in world war one, it’s launch was a big deal in London – why? Because people in those days had no YouTube. 30 thousand people turned up to watch, something many of whom would later regret. The shipyard had not planned for such a large crowd. So when the ship actually entered the water, it created a large wave. The wave smashed into a wooden stand, causing it to collapse. 200 people fell into the choppy Thames river waters. 34 people died – most of which women and children unable to fight the large wave.
It was one of the worst disasters of it’s era, but would likely have been overshadowed if not caught on tape. As it happens, one of the 30 thousand people there that day was Robert W Paul – an early pioneer of film. He recorded both the launching of the ship and the collapse of the stand – as you can see here. The footage is pretty incredible. But it was controversial at the time, with many saying it was insensitive to film a disaster. Either way, it seems to be the earliest tragedy caught on tape. Some also call it the earliest example of video journalism.
First Video With Sound
As we know, the oldest videos of all are entirely silent. The first video with live sound recording is older than you might think, dating to 1895. Created by William Dickson, it was given the snappy name The Dickson Experimental Sound Film. That might sound boring, but don’t worry – the film itself is also quite boring. It shows one man playing a violin while two men dance together behind him. Then towards the end another man stumbled into frame like a drunk extra.
I actually find this footage quite incredible, since it was filmed in the 18 hundreds. Remember that Hollywood only adopted sound in movies in the 1920s… which is weird. And I’m sure there’s a good reason for it, but it’s still weird. The film was created as an experiment at Thomas Edison’s production studio, and for decades it was left in storage and forgotten about, only being rediscovered in 1998.
One year after the Dickson experiment, the first horror movie was created. It didn’t have sound, and was only 3 minutes long. But for the time it was a big step forward. It’s hard to tell what’s going on – but basically, the devil appears in a castle. He then does some cheap magic tricks because he needs something to do. Some soldiers then walk into the room, and with Satan being bored, he plays some pranks on them.
It’s not exactly the most scary film but to be fair, people in those days were cowards. Created by French film pioneer Georges Méliès, it showed some of his early special effects, with Satan transforming into a bat. It was actually just one of 77 films he created in that year. Most of the others are now lost films, and until 1985, this one was also.
The first ever battle caught on film was the Battle of Volo, in 1897. Part of a war between Greece and the Ottoman Empire, it was a fairly inconsequential battle. But a foreign war correspondent was there with a camera. Amazingly, the footage was never released, and is now considered a lost film. Instead, the earliest battle footage we now have is from the Boer War, in 1899.
In 1901 the first street fight was caught on tape, and it’s about as funny as you’d expect. It reminds me of the boxing scene from gangs of New York. And they were coal miners leaving work, so they were probably used to fighting.
First Bank Robbery
Fast forward to 1957 and the first bank robbery was caught on film. It took place in a strange, magical place called Cleveland. Around mid-day a man and a woman walked into the bank, pulled a gun and demanded money. Only part of their faces were concealed, because they had no idea they were being filmed. Up until that point, surveillance cameras were mostly used by the military. No robber expected a regional bank to have one. So unfortunately for the pair of robbers, the footage became a national story.
It was shown on television in full, and still shots printed in the papers. The robbers themselves were totally caught off guard by the media attention, soon turning themselves in. I haven’t been able to find the footage itself, only the still shots published in print. So I guess you just got click baited.
Security cameras have since spread across the world, as have other kinds of footage. So in following years all kinds of oldest videos have emerged. Mentioning them all would take hours, but before I end this video I want to add one honorable mention.
It’s actually older than any other in this video, being created in 1874. A 6 second clip, it showed the transit of Venus, a process where the planet Venus passes in front of the sun and becomes most visible. It was captured in Japan by a team of researchers, having only a brief window to get it. The reason I didn’t include this clip as one of the oldest videos is because it’s not really a video, it’s a collection of images put together. I know that’s technically what every video is, but we have to draw the line somewhere.