clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Princeton vs Yale 1903

New, 3 comments

In 1903 Thomas Edison was on hand for the Princeton vs Yale game with his "Kinetograph" giving us the earliest glimpse of college football as it was actually played.

The game of football is roughly the same age as the medium of moving pictures. And the earliest examples of each are correspondingly primitive. What is interesting is figuring out just where the two intersected for the first time. This video shows film of the Yale vs Princeton game held on Nov. 14, 1903 in New Haven, Connecticut in front of a crowd of about 50,000. Princeton won 11-6.

The film was shot by Thomas Edison whose "Kinetograph" motion picture camera had been patented 1878. Sports events were very much a subject of his early efforts including the earliest "pay per view" boxing match between Mike Leonard and Jack Cushing in 1894 which he sold to exhibitors for $22.50 per round.

The famed inventor finally discovered football's cinematic appeal a decade later but, by that time, the popularity of the gridiron was well established. By the 1903 contest, both Princeton and Yale had been playing the game for about three decades. Yale Field, where this game was held, would be replaced by the 71,000-capacity Yale Bowl a decade later launching the first great college football stadium construction boom.

So by 1903 the sport had moved from an ill defined struggle to one with rules and organization of some sophistication. But concerns over the brutality of the game had already prompted calls for reform. Two years after Edison filmed this contest, US President Theodore Roosevelt issued a call to tame the excesses of the sport and the result would be the creation of the regulating body that would evolve into today's NCAA.

The reforms would also involve a dramatic change in the rules which paved the way for the introduction of the modern passing game. So, this film is one of the few examples remaining today of that earlier version of football we now just read about in books.