Generally, we think of dashcam footage is a relatively recent phenomenon. Recent and overwhelmingly Russian. But the reality is, technically, dashboard cameras could have been at least possible from some of the earliest days of motoring. And at least one example has surfaced: an incredible bit of footage from the dashboard of a fire truck, in 1926.
This Manhattan-area footage is remarkable for many reasons, not the least of which is the title card at 47 seconds in that reads BAD TRAFFIC JAMS FORCE USE OF SIDEWALKS. And boy do they use those sidewalks. The traffic is insane, and the driver seems to have genitals made of tempered steel, the way they're weaving and snaking through that traffic on those tall, skinny tires. Plus, that bell — was that manually operated? It appears to have a control lever that leads into the cabin, so maybe.
And almost exactly one minute in, what's with that guy? A freaking 1920s Fire engine barrels up behind you, clanging a huge brass bell, and Mr.Derbyhat doesn't even notice? Dude, iPods won't be invented for 70 years, what the hell are you doing?
The speed is also a bit deceptive here. Early movie cameras, like this one often didn't have mechanisms for regulating the frames-per-second speed, especially if they were hand-cranked. So, early silent-era movies tended to run anywhere between 16-20 frames per second or so. When played on a later, standardized 24 FPS projector, they look sped up. Which I believe is happening here, since, while this fire truck driver is clearly iron-balled and nuts, I don't think he's that nuts. Or at least the car isn't fast enough to enable that degree of nuttery.
This video is fascinating. Especially when you think about the sheer size of the equipment needed to shoot it. It was likely more of a middle-of-the-seat camera than a strict dash-cam, what with the big housing, film reel magazines, probably some sort of tripod mount? I'd love to see it.