Children in the Surf, Coney Island
Rube and Mandy at Coney Island
Shooting the Chutes
Shooting the Chutes, Luna Park, Coney Island
*For more information on the Pan-American Exposition, go to The Last Days of a President: Films of McKinley and the Pan-American Exposition, 1901.
People responded to this increased allowance of free time by attending a variety of leisure activities both within and away from the city. New types of amusements that people of all classes and both sexes could attend came into existence and quickly spread across the country.
Motion pictures also served as entertainment during leisure time for urban audiences. Initially the movies were novelties in kinetoscope viewers, until they became acts in their own right on the vaudeville stage. As motion pictures became longer, they moved into storefront Nickelodeon theaters and then into even larger theaters.
Outdoor activities remained popular as people attended celebratory parades and county fairs, the latter featuring agricultural products, machinery, competitions, and rides.
Some people wished to go further afield on their vacations and leave the city. Many with limited budgets went to the countryside or the beaches. Towards the latter part of the nineteenth century, resorts opened in the outskirts of cities, such as the beach area of Asbury Park in New Jersey, which was founded in 1870. Amusement parks opened in places like Coney Island, New York, founded in 1897, offering rides, fun houses, scenes from foreign life, and the latest technological
World's fairs and expositions held in different U.S. cities offered Americans a chance to "tour the world" in one place. The fairs celebrated progress and featured exhibits of science and technology, foreign villages, shows, rides and vendors. The first major one was the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876, which was followed by fairs in Chicago (1893), Atlanta (1895), Nashville (1897), Omaha (1898), Buffalo (1901), and St. Louis (1904).
After the Civil War, the popularity of sports as leisure activities grew as people began to see the importance of exercise to health. While initially only the wealthy could partake of most sporting events, the opening of publicly available gymnasiums, courts, and fields allowed the working and middle classes to participate also.
Although men performed the majority of sports activities at this time, opportunities for women, too appeared as the nineteenth century ended. Sports in which women participated included canoeing, rowing, and walking, although by the turn of the century schools began to offer even more sports activities for females, such as gymnastics and basketball.
Spectator sports became popular as people flocked to see boxing rounds and different types of races. Although boxing was initially frowned on because of the violence and gambling associated with it, by the 1890s the Marquis of Queensberry's
Horse racing had always been supported by the wealthy and gamblers; by the end of the nineteenth century, people of all classes attended races. Although yacht races were also initially more popular for the wealthy, the America's Cup series of racing, begun in 1870, increased the sport's appeal. Other types of races which were popular included rowing, sailing, auto boat, and automobile races, the last category beginning in the 1890s.
Derived from the English game of rugby, American football was started in 1879 with rules instituted by Walter Camp, player and coach at Yale University.
Basketball derived from the need for an indoor sport during the winter months. James Nasmith, an instructor at the YMCA Training School at Springfield, Massachusetts, devised the game in 1891. Soon YMCAs and colleges around the country began playing it. The game was adapted for women at schools around the country with differing rules in the 1890s, until in 1899 a standard set of rules for women were adopted.
Other sporting activities which people performed during this time included roller skating, bicycling, swimming, ice skating, sleighing, hunting, and fishing.
First invented in 1863, roller skating became a fad in the 1880s. Improved skates revived the trend by the turn of the century, making it fashionable for the middle classes and also for women.
Bicycling became popular in the 1880s, and the introduction of safer bicycles the following decade increased interest in the sport.
Swimming rapidly became more popular in the latter part of the century as women were increasingly allowed to swim in mixed company. Swimming began to be seen as an acceptable sport for women.
In the latter part of the nineteenth century, urban men in the East sought the outdoors for their sports activities, indulging in hunting and fishing. Anglers' clubs abounded as the sport of fishing grew in popularity.
Winter sports, such as sleighing and ice skating, also gained in popularity in the mid-nineteenth century.
The films in this collection offer ample evidence of many of the activities mentioned. Film audiences of the time would have been amused to see other people or themselves on the screen, out enjoying their leisure time. For today's viewer, these films are historical documents of how Americans spent their leisure moments a hundred years ago, and how activities which are still enjoyed today began.
[Sources for essay: see Selected Bibliography.]
NOTE: Film titles used in this presentation are the original production titles, which may include archaic or incorrect spellings.
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