Buffalo in Film: “The Pan-American Exposition by Night” (1901)

Historic Buffalo

Buffalo’s 1901 Pan-American Exposition was impressive during the day — but it seemed truly magical at night. To demonstrate an additional use for electricity, the exposition’s organizers used 240,000 eight watt incandescent light bulbs (and power generated by Niagara Falls) to illuminate the buildings at night. The Electric Tower was outfitted with 44,000 bulbs; a searchlight at the very top of the tower could be seen from Niagara Falls and Canada.

Every night at dusk the lights came on, their brightness gradually increasing until the entire exposition glowed with brilliant electric light. The astonishing sight was captured on film by Thomas Edison’s film company, and can be viewed below.

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This film was considered quite a technical feat in 1901. The Edison film company catalog describes the film with pride:

A great feature of the Pan-American Exposition, as unanimously conceded by all visitors, was the electric illumination of the Exposition grounds at night. After a great deal of experimenting and patience, we succeeded in securing an excellent picture of the buildings at the Pan-American as they appeared when lighted up at night. All the buildings from the Temple of Music to the Electric Tower are shown, including the Electric Tower itself. The emotional and sensational effects were also secured by starting the panoramic view by daylight and revolving the camera until the Electric Tower forms the center of the field of the lens. Our camera was then stopped and the position held until night, when we photographed the coming up of the lights, an event which was deemed by all to be a great emotional climax at the Pan-American Exposition. Immediately the lights are burning to their fullest brilliancy, the camera is again set in motion and revolved until the Temple of Music is reached. The motion is then reversed and the camera goes back until it rests on the Electric Tower, thus supplying the climax to the picture. The great searchlights of the Tower are being worked during the entire time the picture is being exposed, and the effect is startling. The picture is pronounced by the photographic profession to be a marvel in photography, and by theatrical people to be the greatest winner in panoramic views ever placed before the public.

Source: Library of Congress