Three Fascinating Videos With Live Footage of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford

It’s incredible the stuff that’s sitting there on YouTube if you just search for it. Late last night, when I should absolutely have been sleeping, I instead ended up on a rabbit hole watching Henry Ford and Thomas Edison say stuff.

It’s weird that there are videos of them saying things because they seem like they’re such ancient mythic figures in history. I’m posting three videos—two short and one long (but a few minutes of the long one is enough to get the idea).

Edison, born in 1847, is 17 years older than Ford, and in most of the videos I found, Edison is an old grandpa of a man. Here’s Edison being interviewed in 1931, the year he died. He’s 84, and he’s a fairly lovable old man.

Comments:

0:00 – Pretty into how old-fashioned the music is at the beginning.

0:15 – “Mr. Edison’s best-known invention is of course the” whatphone? Confused.

0:22 – Shitty for Hoover to be the president there and have ended up as the least famous and well-regarded of the three men.

0:37 – What is the deal with the interviewer and why is his voice a cartoon? And is he Harvey Firestone? I can’t tell.

0:46 – Lovable.

1:01 – “I don’t know cause I never heard one.” The joke is that Edison always had hearing problems, and by this point he had gone mostly deaf.

1:08 – I want to squish his face pretty badly here.

Okay next is a video from around the same time, but Edison looks one notch less old so maybe it’s in the mid-late 20s. It’s Edison, Ford, and Firestone talking to each other:

Comments:

0:01 – Okay so there’s that voice again. I think it was Firestone in the first video. I feel like no one talks like that today. Like no one could talk like that today. It’s a very old-fashioned way to talk. Btw Firestone was the first car tire giant and the big company called Firestone today is what he started. Awkward that he’s clearly the least rad of the three of them and all three of them know that.

0:15 – What the hell is Edison reading? He’s literally just bored so they gave him reading material.

0:18 – And they’re talking about Edison as if he’s not there. I guess he’s just fully in out-of-it old man territory and all three of them have accepted the situation.

0:39 – Here Ford starts a little speech on how kids these days just don’t work hard enough. This made me want to put the generations in perspective here. So to simplify, we have:

Gen Y (born around the 1980s/90s)

Gen Y’s parents, Baby Boomers (born in the 1950s-ish)

Gen Y’s grandparents (born around the 1920s)

Gen Y’s great-grandparents (born around the 1890s)

Gen Y’s great-great-grandparents (born around the 1860s) – Henry Ford is in this generation

Gen Y’s great-great-great-grandparents (born around the 1830s) – Thomas Edison is in this generation

So Ford is a 2015 old man’s grandfather and Edison is his great grandfather. So the “kids these days” that Ford is referring to are today’s oldest people’s parents, born the late 1800s or early 1900s.

0:50 Jesus Ford talks like an old-fashioned man. Maybe even more than Firestone. That accent of his—no one talks like that today. These guys all sound like the characters in the Wizard of Oz. Also obsessed with his use of the word “why” at 0:51 (“But if he makes up his mind to go at it without the idea of work, why he hasn’t much chance”)—it’s such an old-timey way to use the word why.

1:03 – Okay more thoughts on his little speech here. First, crazy how much women weren’t people back then. The people of the world were men, and then there were these support creatures for the men—women. So much more fun to be a woman today. Secondly, I was pretty enamored with Ford watching this, but then I remember that he was a raging anti-semite, bordering on being a Hitler supporter (Hitler mentioned his admiration of Ford in Mein Kampf). In that light, you realize that what he’s saying just applies to white, anglo American men, and he kind of seems like an old dick. Still, I might want to take a long car ride with him and have him give me advice the whole time.

1:12 – Hilarious that Ford suddenly decides it’s just too awkward to keep ignoring Edison as if he’s a stuffed animal and then does the thing I do with my grandfather and screams at full volume one inch from his ear.

2:14 – Here Ford takes a totally different point Edison made about how no one thinks and just decides to pretend it’s the same point he made about how no one works. You can’t just say “or in other words” and then say something totally unrelated—that’s not how it works.

Okay onto the long video, a 1922 documentary showing a day in the life of Edison. I found this unbelievably interesting, both because of the footage of Edison at work in the early 1920s and because it’s just cool to watch a film made almost 100 years ago. I recommend watching at least the first seven minutes—it’s the best part of this video.

Comments:

To set the scene, it’s 1922. An infant at the time of the filming is 93 now. So basically no one on our current Earth remembers this time, unless they’re in their 100s. Warren Harding is president. WWI just ended. Women just gained the right to vote. Babe Ruth is in his prime, but Lou Gherig won’t become a rookie till next year. Don Draper was born right around this time. This takes place in New Jersey at Edison’s headquarters.

0:10 – Okay that is some creepy music and old video there. Kind of in a scared mood now.

0:30 – Video is having a full meltdown. You’d think they’d cut that part but no.

1:07 – I think that’s a Ford Model T. Every car was kind of a Ford Model T in 1922 right? Cars being a normal thing was only about 10-15 years old, but that means that by this time they were as old as cell phones are today. The light bulb was 43 years old, so like something invented in the early 70s for us now (like early computers or cassette tapes).

1:27 – So by 1922, there were streets with cars driving by and parked on the side and power lines and street lights. A primitive version of the world today. Only 30 years earlier, there were only horses and lanterns, and cities had no electricity. So this must have felt like a crazy high-tech new world they were living in in 1922. Again, a lot like how our world is still pretty cool to all of us because only 30 years ago, there were no cell phones, personal computers, or internet.

1:51 – Edison was clearly a pretty huge celebrity by this point, like Steve Jobs before his death.

2:13 Thrilled with this music.

2:58 – Looks a whole lot like that guy is about to kiss Edison. What’s actually happening is he’s yelling in Edison’s ear because Edison is almost fully deaf.

3:40 – 3:50 – Edison is unbelievably cranky with that man. Then a message comes on the screen about Edison’s “geniality,” so you think that what’s coming next is Edison being nice to someone, but instead it shows him going into full do it live mode on a staff member at 4:20.

5:17 – The guy is fully going in for the make out here. Crazy how intimately close all of Edison’s assistants had to get to his face at all times. So annoying for everyone.

5:46 – Another mini tantrum by Edison.

6:55 – Finally Edison likes someone! Huge laugh. Really wish I knew what joke the guy had made.

7:00 – Quick FYI: if you’re loving this, watch the rest. But the best part is over and the rest kind of bored me.

10:32 – The composer decides to stop being chilling in favor of being a 3-year-old princess.

12:00 – Weird how similar that is to a modern bulb.

12:43 – Playtime!

14:30 – Unclear what the hell he’s doing here. I feel like the assistants gave him pretend chemicals to play with that he thinks are real.

19:16 – You know Edison was a dick when you watch him not close the door here.

  • Mohsin Ismail

    I think he says “gramophone” (in a weird way) at 0:15?

    • jaime_arg

      yup. not weird, just british and a century ago

  • Erwin

    Why wait, but why?

  • Harpreet Singh Sandhu

    SpaceX post. PLEASE !!!

  • Chunger

    Interesting. Are there similar videos about Tesla?

  • Matt

    It’s 100% gramophone in that first vid. sounds completely normal to my British ears, perhaps Americans pronounce it differently? Also what is the deal about Edison inventing the lightbulb? I always hear this but I thought he just perfected the lightbulb, then patented his version so it would be commercially successful. Is that not the case?

    • gopher652003

      No American has said the word “gramophone” in 70 years;). They say “record” or “vinyl” to refer to the disc itself, and either append “player” onto those or say “turntable”.

      • Matt

        Re. gopher652003: Yeah, okay. We have record players and refer to vinyls too, but it’s a distinct object from a gramophone, which is a large antiquated device with a giant horn attached as a speaker. We don’t use gramophones any more either, but I guess we must just reference them more than you or something?

        Re. imwithstoopid: Yes, that makes sense. Though according to the Wiki article it was less a team of engineers and more a number of scientists from all over the world who each contributed and refined each other’s ideas. To me it seems Edison’s genius had one foot in science and one in phenomenal marketing.

        The lightbulb appears to have had a nebulous start and has continued to be improved and enhanced even up to the modern day. Edison no doubt contributed to it’s timeline (his first patent application, according to the WIki article, was for ‘Improvement of electric lights’), but the fact that the claim is often made that he invented the lightbulb is testament to his lasting PR.

    • imwithstoopid

      You are correct about the light-bulb..
      Nowhere ( in history ) does it mention the ingenious mechanics he had originally working for him. Without them his inventions would have been nothing more than mere ideas. It’s one thing to invent something and another thing to actually produce it. This is still true today.

  • Kate Miller

    My guess about the papers they keep giving him to read is that they have the questions they want Edison to answer on them, since he can’t actually hear the interviewer.

  • Brian

    Another old guy with a very cartoon-y voice is John Fiedler, the original voice of Piglet. He was in Twelve Angry Men, and the Piglet voice is actually his normal voice. So weird to see a real human being speaking like that.

  • RyAgijon

    From a non-native English speaker, and as a strictly personal preference, I think Ford sounds ultra cool with that mid-Atlantic accent and young Americans today sound extremely funny and weird (sorry). Very different to the rest of the Anglosphere. You could do a post about intonation and patterns of speech Tim!

    • RyAgijon

      And to elaborate on that “weirdness”: With devices such as vocal fry, uptalking and very standardized, loud and wobbly intonation patterns, you sound kind of doubtful, informal and laid back but at the same time coercive and patronizing. Very passive-agressive. Weird.

  • asdf

    You should cut it with the moral superiority. Yes ford was racist, as was every one else, as you would’ve been, had you been raised in his environment. It doesn’t detract from what he’s saying just because he might want only members of his demographic to heed his advice. The sentiment was exactly the same as it is now, we just consider more people (all people) to be in the group we want it to apply to.

    I did not get the “kids these days” vibe from what he’s saying at all, advocating education and hard work is different from grumbling about kids being lazy. I think you just saw exactly what you were expecting. I’ve come to expect better from wait but why

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