By KAREN C. LUND
Roosevelt "is such an overmastering personality that we go the length of expressing the hope that moving pictures of him may be preserved in safe custody for future reference. What would the public of this country give today to see Abraham Lincoln or George Washington in their habits as they lived, in moving picture form? Don't you think the student, the historian, the biographer, the patriot would be glad to see moving pictures of these great men? ... It is the same with Mr. Roosevelt."
-- The Moving Picture World
Oct. 22, 1910
Although William McKinley was the first U.S. president to appear in a motion picture, Theodore Roosevelt was the first to have his career and life chronicled on a large scale by motion picture companies. Roosevelt courted the press and the media like no other president had before. He made such an impression on camera that the journal Moving Picture World referred to him as "more than a picture personality -- he is A PICTURE MAN."
A new American Memory Web presentation, "Theodore Roosevelt: His Life and Times on Film," is testament to this, as evidenced by the 104 films on the site that record events in his life from 1898 to his death in 1919. Besides containing scenes of Roosevelt (left, from "TR in Baltimore, 1918"), these films include views of world figures, politicians, monarchs and friends and family members of Roosevelt who influenced his life and the era in which he lived. Four sound recordings made by Roosevelt for the Edison Co. in 1912 during the Progressive campaign are also included on the site. No doubt the author of the 1910 article from which the above quotes appear would have been pleased to see that the Library of Congress has indeed preserved films of Roosevelt "in safe custody" in the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, and that some are readily available to all via the World Wide Web, thanks to the collaborative work of the division and the National Digital Library Program.
The majority of the films on the site are from the Theodore Roosevelt Association Collection. Founded in 1919 after his death, the association was organized to perpetuate the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt. As part of its mission, it amassed a collection of motion pictures relating to the life and times of the former president. Much of the footage was taken from newsreels and other actuality films of the time. The association also compiled some of this footage to make silent documentaries on various aspects of Roosevelt's life, such as his trip on the River of Doubt in Brazil and the building of the Roosevelt Dam.
In 1962 the association gave its film collection of 381 titles to the Library of Congress, where it currently resides. For the online presentation, a selection of 87 films from the collection were chosen to represent as many different times and phases of Roosevelt's life and career as possible.
The Theodore Roosevelt Association Collection is predominantly composed of films made after his presidency. To amplify the few films in this collection that were made during his presidency, 17 films from the Paper Print Collection were added to the online presentation. These films show Roosevelt in various public appearances while he was president. Other films from the Paper Print Collection show Roosevelt in events relating to the Spanish-American War before he was elected president. (The Library's Paper Print Collection contains some of the earliest films ever made, which were deposited for copyright in 1894-1915 as positive photographs, frequently on rolls as celluloid film would be.)
The four Edison sound recordings featuring Roosevelt speaking on his progressive political views were also given to the Library by the Theodore Roosevelt Association in 1982 along with other assorted sound recordings relating to the former president.
The earliest extant film of Roosevelt is "Theodore Roosevelt Leaving the White House." The film was produced when he was making a name for himself as assistant secretary of the Navy in 1898, ardently battling for the United States to prepare for war with Spain. When war was declared, he resigned to serve as a lieutenant colonel in the Spanish-American War and won acclaim with his Rough Riders for their part in the Battle of San Juan Hill. Two films on the site show Roosevelt during this period, "Roosevelt's Rough Riders" and "President Roosevelt and the Rough Riders," the latter copyrighted with the title after he had become president, even though the film had been produced earlier.
As Roosevelt rose in political circles, he was inaugurated as vice president to William McKinley on March 4, 1901. The film "Terrible Teddy, the Grizzly King" shows how Roosevelt was already being perceived as a media star. The satiric film made fun of Roosevelt's reputation as a bear hunter by showing an actor dressed as Roosevelt hunting a house cat while being followed by his press agent and photographer.
McKinley's assassination in September 1901 at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo catapulted Roosevelt into the presidency, and several films exist documenting the funeral events. Roosevelt can be seen at the funeral in Canton, Ohio, in "President Roosevelt at the Canton Station." (In addition, American Memory has another Web presentation focusing on McKinley, "The Last Days of a President.")
During his first term as president, Roosevelt was often in front of the camera, openly engaging journalists and filmmakers. He traveled widely in his duties and is shown in films attending the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia, greeting a foreign dignitary (Prince Henry of Prussia), appearing at the Charleston and the St. Louis expositions, and touring San Francisco.
In his second term, Roosevelt worked to bring a peace settlement to the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. Delegates from both nations were invited to Portsmouth, N.H., to facilitate this. Three films on the Web site show the visiting Japanese and Russian diplomats. A treaty was signed between the two nations on Sept. 2, 1905, and Roosevelt was later to receive a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
Roosevelt also acquired the right for the United States to build a canal in Panama and visited the country himself in November 1906, the first time a president in office had ever visited a foreign nation. Footage of the first president of Panama, Manuel Amador Guerrero, greeting Roosevelt at the cathedral in Panama City is available in two films in the collection, "TR Speaking in Panama, November 1906" and "TR's Arrival in Panama, November 1906." There is also footage of one of William H. Taft's visits to Panama as president.
Following his presidency, Roosevelt embarked on an expedition to Africa for the Smithsonian Institution to gain animal specimens. The footage on the Web site was most likely filmed in British East Africa, now Kenya. Scenes of Mombasa, the plains along the Uganda Railway, and Masai tribespeople are included in the film "TR in Africa." A rainmaker appears performing a ritual dance, and what are probably Kikuyu or Masai tribespeople perform dances in front of the camera.
After Africa, Roosevelt traveled to Europe, where a fascinated continent treated him as if he were still head of state. While there, he met with Emperor Franz Josef of Austria, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, Crown Prince Christian of Denmark and King Haakon of Norway. "TR's Return from Africa, 1910" and ""TR in Norway and Denmark, 1910" show Roosevelt meeting with the various monarchs and dignitaries and also going to ceremonies to accept the Nobel Peace Prize in Norway for his efforts in ending the Russo-Japanese War.
When King Edward VII of England died while Roosevelt was still in Europe, President Taft asked Roosevelt to represent the United States at the funeral, shown in both "TR's Return from Africa, 1910" and "King Edward's Funeral, 1910." The funeral was the last time before World War I when so many monarchs of Europe, most related through marriage, would be able to meet together.
When he returned to New York, Roosevelt was met with great acclaim. His boat was escorted by a battleship, a destroyer flotilla and other smaller boats, and a water parade followed. Hundreds of people greeted him, and thousands of people lined Broadway as he proceeded in a carriage with some Rough Riders providing escort, as evidenced by "TR's Return to New York, 1910."
Even though he was no longer president, Roosevelt's activities kept him in front of the cameras. On Oct. 11,1910, he flew in an airplane at St. Louis, Mo., the first time a U.S. president had ever flown in an airplane. The biplane was piloted by Arch Hoxsey, and the former president's daring was immortalized on film (below).
In addition, his presence at the official dedication of the Roosevelt Dam was filmed on March 18, 1911. Several films in the presentation focus on the Roosevelt Dam, which emerged largely as the result of his reclamation efforts while president. The film "The Roosevelt Dam," compiled by the Roosevelt Memorial Association, goes into great detail on his commitment to the reclamation of desert land and his belief that natural resources existed for the public benefit.
Disappointed with the Republican Party and its continued support for Taft in the face of popular support for himself, he ran for the presidency again in 1912 on the newly formed Progressive Party ticket. He campaigned actively for the election, but ultimately lost to the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson. Films of his daily life at his home Sagamore Hill, such as "A Visit to Theodore Roosevelt at His Home at Sagamore Hill," made by Pathe Freres, were made as interest in his campaign grew. The four sound recordings on the Web site are excerpts from speeches Roosevelt made during his Progressive campaign. In them, he expounded his populist policies, stating his view that the people should rule in a democracy and not be subject to corrupt government, and that better living and working conditions should be provided for the average man and woman.
In 1913 Roosevelt traveled to South America to deliver several lectures. He was invited to go on an expedition down the previously unexplored River of Doubt, or the Rio da Duvida. The river, which the expedition mapped, was ultimately named Rio Roosevelt, or Rio Teodoro, for him. The film chronicling this voyage was compiled by the Roosevelt Association and titled "The River of Doubt." Although most of the film footage taken on Roosevelt's journey was lost in an accident in the rapids, the documentary film contains some of the extant footage and photographs along with shots taken on a subsequent journey down the river by George M. Dyott in 1927 for the Roosevelt Memorial Association. During his journey, Roosevelt became so ill and disabled that he considered suicide to avoid slowing down his traveling companions, but he later said that he knew his son Kermit, who was also on the trip, would not abandon his body in the jungle and that he had no choice but to come out alive. Some of the ailments plaguing him were malaria, a cellulitis infection and an abscess in his buttock. During the six-week trip, he had lost a quarter of his weight. After this trip, his health was permanently worsened and was probably a factor in his death six years later, in 1919.
In 1916 Roosevelt was encouraged by many to run for president again, a notion he entertained, but ultimately declined. He did, however, travel to New Mexico, where he campaigned for the Republican candidate, Charles E. Hughes. Two films captured his tours and speechmaking in New Mexico, "TR in New Mexico, 1916" and "TR's Reception in Albuquerque, N.M., 1916."
Numerous other films exist that show Roosevelt during the latter period of his life making speeches from Sagamore Hill and attending various public events. In these films, one can see him speaking with women suffragettes, receiving Belgian envoys and visiting neighbors at Christmastime.
As war loomed in Europe, Roosevelt became increasingly convinced that the United States needed to prepare for it, and he opposed those who spoke for peace at all cost. When the United States finally did join the World War, he volunteered to serve abroad, but Wilson denied his request. Thwarted, Roosevelt turned his attention to campaigning for the war efforts, and many films record his wartime crusading. His sons went to fight in the war, and he lost his son Quentin when he was shot down behind German lines. Roosevelt can be seen in films such as "TR in Baltimore During Liberty Loan Drive, 1918" wearing a black armband in memory of his son.
Roosevelt died in 1919 as a result of a pulmonary embolism. That same year, the Roosevelt Association was established, and in the following years many commemorative events and services were held in his honor, several of which were captured on film. Notable figures such as Prince Edward of England (later to be King Edward VIII, better known as the Duke of Windsor) and King Albert of Belgium can be seen on film paying homage to Roosevelt by visiting his grave.
Ultimately, the American Memory Roosevelt Web site is a remarkable record of a prominent life lived before the camera. As America's first media president, living at a time when the United States was first becoming a world power, the films and recordings of his life serve as valuable documents of the history of the early part of this century.
Karen C. Lund is a digital conversion specialist for the National Digital Library Program in the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division.