CLEVELAND (WJW) — It is actually a 29-minute commercial of sorts.
The Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company was touting the magic and industry of electric power. And that power was generated at the time at its new, massive lakeshore coal fired plant, which then was the largest in the world … or, as the title suggests, was “The Heart of Cleveland.”
The 1924 silent film is a rare look at the city before Terminal Tower, before Interstate 90 and before movies even talked.
“How electricity started as sort of an urban idea spreads out to the country,” said Kevin Martin with the Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, Delaware, which specializes in industrial history.
He says “The Heart of Cleveland” was a hidden gem found in the archives of Cleveland-based Cinecraft.
In 2019, the company donated over 6,000 cans of incredibly well preserved 16-millimeter film and boxes and boxes of scripts and photographs to the Hagley.
“We thought it went back to the 1950s. We were surprised to find that not only were there Cinecraft films that there were other films that the company had collected over the years,” Martin said.
The film tells the story of a family who lives 50 minutes from Cleveland but still does not have electricity.
A pilot has to make a landing on their farm and tells them about the wonders of radio and electricity, so he takes their two young children on a plane to Cleveland where they get to see the wonders of electricity and what it can bring.
Films like this are a rare look at not only Cleveland as it was in the Roaring 20s, but a unique look at a period of great transition in the United States from a rural country to a modern industrialized one.
“We think of electricity as late 19th century, but you know, it wasn’t until after WWII before it became widespread. I think this film sort of tells this story which makes it not only valuable as a piece of Cleveland history but a piece of industrial and American history as well,” Martin said.
The film was a feature that was shown in the early silent movie houses and was seen by thousands of people at the time.
The city has changed and been through many transitions, and this remarkable 97-year-old film gives a glimpse into the past that helped build the city’s future. A lot of the landmarks that you see in the film are gone now, namely the old Lakeshore Plant. The old Illuminating Company building is still there; it’s now being given a new look.
The film, along with about 200 others, has been posted online in the Hagley Library archives.
Find the entire film and more information on Hagley below: