M Stadium banner

First U-M Football Film: Michigan vs. Chicago, 1904

From the first time Michigan and the University of Chicago teams met on the gridiron in 1892 the annual contest became one of the country's great rivalries. Until 1901 the game was always held in Chicago, frequently on Thanksgiving Day. Michigan had a large body of alumni who relished the chance to cheer on their team and for Chicago's fans the game was one of the social events of the Fall. The winner of the game often claimed the mythical title "Champion of the West." Michigan's 12-11 victory in 1898 had inspired Michigan student Louis Elbel to compose "The Victors." As the 1904 game approached the series stood at 7-5 in Michigan's favor.

UM Chicago game card

1904 Chicago game, link to video
1904 U-M vs. Chicago  at Old
Ferry Field (Library of Congress)

The 1904 game promised to be special. Michigan was undefeated and Chicago's record was marred by a single tie. Fielding Yost had defeated Chicago's already legendary coach Amos Alonzo Stagg in each of his first three years at Michigan, laying the roots for a long and bitter personal rivalry. Michigan's prolific "point-a-minute" team was led by All-American halfback Willie Heston. Chicago countered with the elusive sophomore quarterback Walter Eckersall

Ferry Field was packed with 13,500 spectators for the opening kickoff. The game also attracted the interest of the American Kinetograph Co. of Orange New Jersey, Thomas Edison's movie production company. The manager of the Temple Theater of Detroit had arranged for the game to be filmed for later showing in his theater.

By one account, this was the first successful filming of a college football game. [1]

In the game action clip it is hard to distinguish between the teams. The action opens with Michigan on defense, and includes a Michigan kickoff and a run from scrimmage - possibly by Tom Hammond. The sideline footage shows close-ups of a number of Michigan players, including Walter "Octy" Graham and Adolf "Germany" Schulz as well as a brief shot of football trainer and track coach Keene Fitzpatrick, and a Willie Heston touchdown run. The clip closes with slow pan shots of the crowd, press box and bleachers.

The following newspaper article about the filming of the game was found in a scrapbook kept by Walter Graham, a freshman guard on the 1904 Michigan team.


Success marked the attempt made to take moving pictures of the Michigan-Chicago game at Ann Arbor yesterday. B.G. Smith, superintendent of the film department of the American Kinetograph Co. of Orange, NJ, who was secured by manager Moore, of the Temple Theater to come west, and make the attempt with a machine, announces that the pictures will be perfect in every detail.

"In the first place," said Mr. Smith, "the weather was as if made to order for the machine, and I secured every play made as well as a magnificent panorama picture of the immense crowd. I used up about 700 feet of film at a cost of $350 to the Temple theater management, and in addition to this the management pays my expenses to and from Orange, besides the rent of the machine, and the payment of an operator while the pictures are on exhibition here. I secured excellent pictures of your great Heston, and your mountainous Carter and Curtis, and I secured close-up pictures of the men who were jounced into slumber land. This is the first time that pictures of a football game were ever taken successfully, for as you may know, football weather is not conducive to good moving pictures.

"I leave Detroit for Orange tonight, and by Wednesday morning the pictures will be ready for production, but I understand that the Temple will not put them on until the following Monday. The very many people from Detroit and vicinity who attended the game will, no doubt, be able to recognize themselves when the Michigan eleven was making such superb plays.

"I feel rather proud at having accomplished this feat, and I feel grateful to Manager Baird, of the university, as well as to Mr. Finn, of the Temple theater who paved the way so nicely for me. I never was treated better in my life than I was at the game. I was given every privilege that any one could ask, and the result is that I will do more to advertise the great Michigan university football eleven than any living man."

The film does not close with a shot of the scoreboard, but if it did, it would record a 22-12 victory for Michigan. The win capped a fourth consecutive undefeated season for Yost's men and earned them a share of the national championship with Penn.

[1]  The Edison camera operator described it as the first "successful" football game film.  The Edison company had filmed at least one game prior to the 1904 Michigan-Chicago game.  Clips of the 1903 Princeton-Yale match are available online at Library of Congress website.

Image Credits:

top | previous | next

| Stadium Home Page | Ath. Dept. MGOBLUE | Ath. History | Bentley Library