#96) President McKinley Inauguration Footage (1901)


#96) President McKinley Inauguration Footage (1901)

OR “Mr. Edison Goes to Washington”

Directed by Thomas Edison

Class of 2000

The Plot: Two very short films that capture brief moments from President William McKinley’s second inauguration in March 1901. The first is McKinley taking the oath of office and beginning to give his speech, the second is a glimpse of the procession down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls these shorts “a unique look at one of the seminal events of turn-of-the-20th-Century political history.” More historical context is provided in an essay by a film expert named “Buckey”.

But Does It Really?: I guess, though weirdly this is not the first presidential inauguration to be filmed. That distinction goes to McKinley’s first inauguration in 1897. Why the 1901 film made the list and 1897 didn’t is beyond me.

Everybody Gets One: During his first term, President William McKinley helped America get out of a recession and led the country to a swift victory in the Spanish-American war. He was initially reluctant to have his inaugurations filmed, but his brother Abner talked him into it. Once again, President William McKinley had a brother named Abner. Abner McKinley. That was the name of a real person. Carry on.

Wow, That’s Dated: Horse drawn carriages as a mode of transportation, wearing a formal top hat without being a tap dancer or a magician.

Other notes

  • Do yourself a favor and read Thomas Edison’s descriptions of these two films in the Edison film catalog. He really oversells them. He calls the footage he got of McKinley passing by on his camera “an absolutely perfect photograph”. Not really Tom, not really.
  • The stands seem a bit empty at the beginning of the inauguration. Must…not…make…crowd size joke…
  • The hexagram symbol in front of McKinley is actually made up of 13 smaller stars, representing the 13 colonies. It’s the same design on the back of the dollar bill. Really disappointing, because I was hoping McKinley was our first Jewish president.
  • The procession was filmed on the corner of 15th and Pennsylvania Avenue, right by the current site of the White House Visitor Center.
  • I am always happy to watch a parade without hearing C-list celebrities attempting banter.
  • Why are Buckingham palace guards at this inauguration?
  • No one in this cavalry knows how to ride a horse. Was this really the best we could do for the president?
  • Random Presidential Fact: William McKinley was the first president to ride in an automobile. It was in 1900 when the president rode in a Stanley Steamer (which I assume made his carpets cleaner).


  • Six months after the events of these films, while visiting the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo New York, President McKinley was shot by anarchist Leon Czolgosz and died eight days later. Theodore Roosevelt succeeded McKinley as our 26th president.
  • Like many presidents, McKinley has his share of memorials, including replacing Lincoln on the $500 bill.
1934 500 Dollar Federal Reserve Note
  • What else can I tell you…um…well, we still film presidential inaugurations, so that’s a cool thing.

Listen to This: McKinley’s opponent during both of his campaigns was former Congressman William Jennings Bryan. McKinley won both elections, but Bryan had The Speech. Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech at the 1896 Democratic Convention is still the benchmark for election speeches. Bryan supported the new Silver Standard to replace the Gold Standard and ended his oration by saying Americans would not be crucified “upon a cross of gold”. The Silver Standard never caught on, but boy did he sound great talking about it. While the original speech was not recorded, Bryan did record some excerpts in 1921, just a few years before the other event that keeps him relevant; The Scopes Monkey Trial. Also included is an essay by Professor Robert Cherny from my alma mater, SFSU.

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