On Tuesday, May 12, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt paid an official visit to San Francisco. Cameraman H. J. Miles captured the president’s arrival parade on film and later released the footage as The President’s Carriage.
Two days after the Market Street procession, Roosevelt was filmed again as he dedicated Dewey Monument in the city’s Union Square. The monument, which is still in place, commemorates the victory of Admiral George Dewey and the American fleet over Spanish forces at Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War. It is also a tribute to the sailors of the U.S. Navy.
Called actuality films, short documentaries such as The President’s Carriage, as well as films of policemen and firemen in action, buildings under construction, and new inventions, appeared in nickelodeons throughout America. The themes and conventions of these short films were borrowed from nineteenth century commercial photography. Early audiences, while amazed by the moving images, were very familiar with the subject matter. What is perhaps most interesting about the two Roosevelt actuality films is the view they offer of a city that would be devastated by a massive earthquake and fire just three years after the president’s 1903 visit.
- Before and After the Great Earthquake and Fire: Early Films of San Francisco, 1897 to 1916 offers 26 films of San Francisco before and after the 1906 disaster. To see the range of films available, browse the collection’s Subject Index. For more information, read the description of turn-of-the-century America and the Related Resources section of the collection.
- Theodore Roosevelt: His Life and Times on Film features 104 films that serve as records of events in Roosevelt’s life from the Spanish-American War in 1898 to his death in 1919. Besides containing scenes of Roosevelt, these films include views of world figures, politicians, monarchs, and Roosevelt’s friends and family members who influenced his life and the era in which he lived. See the essay Theodore Roosevelt on Film for insight into this photogenic president’s history in front of the motion picture camera.
- Another film collection, The Spanish-American War in Motion Pictures, includes footage of Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. This volunteer cavalry unit, which included the flamboyant Theodore Roosevelt himself, is best known for its role on San Juan Hill in the Battle of Santiago. Search the collection using the term Roosevelt to find more clips of the future president taken during the first U.S. war in which the motion picture camera played a role.
- To learn more about the history of filmmaking, see History of Edison Motion Pictures, a section of the collection Inventing Entertainment: The Early Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings the Edison Companies. Also see the Today in History features on Thomas Edison and cameraman Billy Bitzer.
- For more on Teddy Roosevelt, search Today in History using the term Theodore Roosevelt.
- View a selection of items from the Manuscript Division’s collection of Theodore Roosevelt Papers as well as a Timeline of key events in his life.
- Search across the Library’s online collections of films and videos by Subjects to find additional actuality films as well as numerous other topics.