Dashboard cameras installed in law enforcement and rescue vehicles have become a common feature, helpful in documenting what goes on during police stops and emergency calls. But they’re not as new as you might think, E3 Spark Plugs fans.
A researcher’s recent dig through the archives of the Fire Department of New York unearthed a real historical gem – footage of a borough department responding to a fire way back in 1926. Two silent videos (sound on film was possible as early as 1923 and used in film shorts, but too pricey to be commercially viable for another decade or so) give viewers a first-hand look at life in the streets during the Roaring ’20s. And it was pretty chaotic.
Traffic rules of some sort were in place in the U.S. as early as 1903 and the first modern traffic light was installed at a Cleveland street corner in 1914 (the first traffic light ever was a gas lamp that lasted a month before it exploded and killed the London police officer operating it). But judging by the footage, it appears that actually obeying traffic and pedestrian rules was largely considered optional by the good folk of the Big Apple.
One video shows the bumpy ride from a Brooklyn fire station to a storage warehouse ablaze on East 123rd Street via a camera mounted on the car transporting Fire Chief John Kenlon. Pedestrians seem oblivious to the emergency. A few holdouts of the horse-drawn buggy variety are seen. And sidewalks apparently were a perfectly reasonable alternative back in the day. Dated April 24, 1926, a snowy spring day, this is believed to be the first dashcam video ever.
The second video is an edited sequence that takes viewers through the full process of a fire call. It starts with the fire alarm, sounded from a box on the street, then going through the Manhattan Fire Alarm Telegraph Bureau to the various stations and the dispatched department.
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