“In an age when nickelodeon theaters were trying to gain acceptance among respectable audiences,” writes Kathleen Dalton in Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life, “politicians often proved camera shy. Unlike most politicians of his day, Roosevelt liked to be filmed because movies reached a mass audience.”
The relatively new technologies of cross-country train travel and later, the moving picture, came together in perfect harmony for Roosevelt in 1903.
In April of that year, some 18 months after the assassination of William McKinley elevated Roosevelt to the presidency and with the presidential election of 1904 looming in front of him, Roosevelt set out on what Goodwin describes as “the longest journey ever taken by a president — a nine-week transcontinental journey by train that would cover 14,000 miles across twenty-four states and territories.”
Waiting for him at many of the stops were still photographers, of course, but also, in San Francisco, the new breed of documentarian, the film maker, who would over time change American politics forever.
In the video above, Miles captured a minute and 32 seconds of the procession, at 15 frames per second. Note how Roosevelt glances toward the camera waving his hat.
A second film, by an unnamed cameraman, with a duration of 2:26 was also shot that day from a different vantage point:
The second film shot in San Francisco, Veronica Gillespie adds in an article about Roosevelts’s “love affair” with the camera, “is one of the more unusual items from a sociological point of view …. There are long shots of military escorts, Roosevelt’s horse-drawn carriage, and preceding the carriage, the Ninth U.S. Cavalry Regiment, which according to newspaper accounts, was one of the first black companies to have had so prominent a position in a public procession.”
“Note the entourage of secret service men walking before the presidential carriage, a reminder of the fate of President Roosevelt’s predecessor, President William McKinley,” says the Library of Congress description accompanying the clip.
And note, as well, Roosevelt’s unconcealed pleasure at the occasion.
“Although Roosevelt was photographed many times during his administrations, there are relatively few films that actually portray him as the twenty-sixth president,” writes Gillespie in “The Roosevelt Films.”
These clips are among those few. It’s unclear how many people saw them at the time or where, though the journey itself was highly publicized.
Roosevelt, of course, would indeed win the election the next year, overwhelmingly defeating Alton B. Parker, the Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, whose name lives on only in trivial pursuit.
“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,” according to Library of Congress research by Gillespie. “….He made such an impression on camera that the journal ‘Moving Picture World’ referred to him as ‘much more than a picture personality — he is A PICTURE MAN.'”
Miles, who wielded the camera on Market Street, would make a fortune in the motion picture business, and then jump to his death in 1908 from the seventh floor of the Concord apartment house on Riverside Drive in New York.
The film is preserved in the Library of Congress, Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division.