Thomas Edison began producing movies in 1894. In 1895, one of his employees left and with others, formed the American Mutoscope Company. A few years later, the company changed its name to the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, or the Biograph Company, as it was commonly called. Interestingly, at least three of the early Biograph movies were shot on Mt. Washington, or nearby.
The earliest of the three, a short film by the Biograph Company, of the Fabyan House coach at the summit of Mt. Washington, apparently no longer exists, or if it does, its location is unknown. It’s existence is known only from articles about it in “Among The Clouds”. However, copies of the other two exist and are presented here for your enjoyment.
“Automobiling Among the Clouds”, showing the first auto race up Mt. Washington, was produced by the Biograph Company in 1904. The race, known as “Climb to the Clouds” was one of the earliest auto races in this country. It took just slightly over 24 minutes for the winner, Harry Harkness, driving a Mercedes, to reach the Summit and claim the trophy. (In 1998, the record was set at 6 minutes and 42 seconds.)
Click here to see the entire 5 1/2 minute movie
Click here for Road Map of the Tour
The second film records participants in the first Glidden Tour departing the Mt. Washington Hotel in July, 1905. Thirty-three contestants departed from New York and three days later arrived at Bretton Woods and the Mt. Washington Hotel. Most participated in that year’s “Climb to the Clouds”. The Manchester Union was strongly opposed to the event, and wrote as follows: “To our mind, the whole thing has been an almost entirely unmitigated nuisance. The lives and property of perfectly harmless people have been seriously menaced; the laws willfully disregarded; and for no earthly reason rather than to afford amusement to a lot of strangers. There seems no reason at all why the people of the community should be subjected to such things.
Take for instance the record of the run from Concord to Nashua -- 18 miles in 40 minutes! Have they the right to do such a thing? Take a list of accidents they caused: an old man thrown out of his wagon and his arm injured, while his horse ran away and smashed the wagon and harness to bits; a collision with a lumber wagon and the driver of the automobile hurt; a horse and a mowing machine badly frightened and cut up. All these things without redress offered or obtained from the man who owns the machine. The newspaper went on to suggest that if the drivers returned to New Hampshire the following years, perhaps the speeders should spend a few days in jail.
Click here to see the entire 8 minute movie
Part of the charm of these films is their “primitive” character. The technology of movie making was in its infancy and the endurance of the early automobiles was uncertain. You’ll note that cameras were stationary and could only film whatever moved in front of them. When you watch the 1904 race, you’ll see cars unable to climb the steep grade and requiring that the driver’s assistant get out and push the vehicle.
The two major collections of very early motion pictures are at the Library of Congress and the Museum of Modern Art, in New York. Their websites have much more information.
The image in the header at the top of this page shows one of the early automobiles with the Mt. Washington Hotel in the background.