Oldest 35 mm Film

If you know me, you know that I LOVE old things . . . old houses, old cars, old stories, old people, old clothes, old pictures, etc. This film, shot 104 years ago, is the oldest 35 mm film known. They mounted a camera on the front of a cable car and took a film as it went on its route in the heart of San Francisco in 1906.

San Francisco Burning

In the film at the end of this post you can see the clock tower at the Embarcadero Wharf on San Francisco Bay, which is at the end of Market Street. The film was mailed to New York City to be processed, so it survived the Great California Earthquake that struck near San Francisco on April 18th of that year, just four days after this film was made! Because almost 3000 people lost their lives in the earthquake and the fires that followed, I couldn’t help but wonder at these seemingly carefree people, and how dramatically their lives changed this very week. Were some of them killed? Did many of them lose loved ones?

Notice that the steering wheels were sometimes on the left, and all the people that ‘played chicken’ with the cars, cable cars, horse and buggies. It seems like absolute confusion being in the streets. This is one area where I am glad the government intervened and regulated driving habits, but probably not for many years to come.

We have speeding cars that kill people every day, but I can’t imagine the number of people that were killed in the confusion that was transportation at the turn of the 20th Century. What I wondered when I watched this was, were they able to stop the cable cars? Was the conductor able to stop them if he wanted? Some of these were close calls, but were the cable cars just automated and would they keep going if someone or something got in the way?

What a fabulous piece of history! This was cool enough to watch repeatedly and to see so many different things each time you watch.


By Mimi Foster

About the Author

Mimi has received the honor of being voted one of Colorado Springs' Best Realtors five years in a row. With over two decades of experience, she is committed to making the home buying/selling process as easy and enjoyable as possible. Read Full Bio…

Helping buy and sell homes throughout Colorado Springs,
Old Colorado City, Manitou Springs, and surrounding areas




8 thoughts on “Oldest 35 mm Film”

  1. This, too, is magical for me. I am a writer of San Francisco and California/Nevada history. One of my books tells the true tale of an earthquake displaced family, and what became of them. It is titled “Fallen Leaves” and can be gotten on Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com for ebooks, and hard cover in July 2012. Loved the video, and the page showing Market Street ablaze. I have stood there many times trying to imagine the horror. Thanks for sharing! C. C. Haile

  2. If you’re still wondering how cable cars stopped, the cable constantly ran in a groove below the street’s surface. The car had an arm below that had a clamp around the cable. When the driver wanted to stop, he worked a lever that released the clamp and he applied a brake to the wheels, if needed. The cable continued to run. To start going again, the brake was released and the clamp engaged, and off they went.


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