Thomas Edison's footage of the moving sidewalk from the 1900 Exposition Universelle shows the view from different parts of the mile-long contraption that took visitors around the exhibit areas. To recreate the experience of visitors like Edison, we wandered the course of the moving sidewalk and captured footage of the views that have changed so dramatically since Edison's film.
Using a map of the 1900 Exposition Universelle area and exhibits, We were able to find the exact path of the moving sidewalk that awed visitors more than a century ago. The solid red line runs from Quai d'Orsay, Les Invalides, and all the way to Champ de Mars and the Eiffel Tower (Bineteau). It is hard to imagine a moving sidewalk spanning this distance between the exhibition areas, especially once we walked the path that the sidewalk took. Edison's footage of the exhibits included shots of two stations that helped mark specific spaces: the Quai d'Orsay/Les Invalides station and the Champ de Mars/Porte Rapp station. Beginning at the Quai d'Orsay, where Edison's footage shows a station stop for the sidewalk, we walked towards the Esplanades des Invalides (Edison 0:49). The scenery has changed dramatically; the paths once filled with wondrous exhibit halls is now a residential area on the right and a view of the Seine on the left. The path of the moving sidewalk is shaded by trees and feels serene despite the busy road to the left. Edison's footage also has a strange sense of quietude, especially since there is no musical accompaniment or noise. The present day footage is also quiet, with no music, to both imitate Edison's original footage and to mimic the nostalgic quietude that the film evokes.
According to the map of the 1900 Exposition, the Esplanades des Invalides were filled with exhibitions from foreign countries and a variety of machinery and technology exhibit halls (Bineteau). Now, the area in front of Les Invalides is full of people strolling, tanning, and the occasional amateur trick roller skater. No remains or recognition of the exhibit halls can be found on the Esplanades. For such a momentous event during its time, the 1900 Exposition Universelle can hardly be seen in spaces like Les Invalides today.
After visitors rode past the exhibit halls from other countries on the Esplanades, they were taken down a route leading to the Eiffel Tower through what is now residential and commercial areas. Edison's footage shows a station situated near the Champ de Mars and Porte Rapp, which can also be seen in the map of the moving sidewalk (Edison 1:33). This area is mostly quiet, but tour buses and souvenir shops increase as the path comes closer to the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower cannot be seen in Edison's footage of the moving sidewalk, but it is likely that it could be seen from the moving sidewalk itself by Exposition visitors, as it comes in clear view near the end of the sidewalk's route. This section of the moving sidewalk has changed the least since Edison's footage. The buildings that can be seen from the elevated view of the moving sidewalk still appear to be there and in much the same style. While the areas specified for exhibition have evolved over the years, these residential paths in between the exhibit spaces have changed much less.
Walking the path of the 1900 Exposition Universelle's moving sidewalk was a surreal experience. The sheer scale of the exhibition and how the spaces were transformed into what Edison saw and captured is remarkable once imagined from the actual paths that visitors followed. Although many of the sites that Edison and many others saw no longer stand, the whole area is imbued with the same sense of grandeur, history, and spectacle that made the Exposition Universelles so appealing in their own time.