Early films of Princeton football, 1903-1951

The oldest known silent movie of a Princeton football match is a four minute recording of a Yale-Princeton game, shot at Yale’s stadium in 1903. The film, which was produced by the company of Thomas A. Edison, inventor of the motion picture camera, is held at the Library of Congress and can be viewed online. Featured below is the oldest football film in the Princeton University Archives, which is also the oldest film in our entire audiovisual collection: a recording of the 1919 Princeton-Harvard match at Palmer Stadium. It is interesting to compare the annotated movie, shot from just one spot in the bleachers, with two newsreels of matches in 1941 and 1951, when the excitement of the game could be captured in movement as well as sound.

 

While Thomas Edison’s cameraman in 1903 tried to capture the excitement of the game with a variety of shots and angles, the unknown cameraman who shot this 1919 Princeton-Harvard match was anchored to one spot. His aim was just to film the highlights, resulting in this annotated 25 minute film of the game on November 8, 1919, which ended in a 10-10 tie. We do not have any information about the context of this film. The earliest references to the practice of filming Princeton football and other events date from the early 1920s. The Princeton University Archives holds some football films from 1928, but most films found in the Football Films collection date from the 1950s forward. (Additional newsreels of games from the 1950s will be posted at a later date.)

The 1941 football newsreel, which captures Princeton’s loss to Pennsylvania 23-0, includes footage of the traditional tearing down of the goal post after the game (1:18). The second newsreel captures Princeton’s 5th game of 1951, which ended with a 53-15 victory (mistakenly announced as 53-14) over previously undefeated Cornell (01:44). The game has been called the ‘finest hour’ of Dick Kazmaier ’52, who was voted “All American” in both his junior and his senior year, and won the Heisman trophy as the player of the year in 1951.

These films are part of the University Archives’ Historical Audiovisual Collection. The 1919 film is a 16mm film (item no. 0166) and the newsreels were found on a Betacam 30 video capture of the original newsreels (item no 1344).

 

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