‘First Recorded Snowball Fight’

A December 11 2022 tweet from History in Pictures (@HistoryInPics) purportedly depicted the first recorded snowball fight in 1897:

A 35-second long video was part of the tweet, which depicted a snowy scene and individuals in turn-of-the-century clothing engaging in a snowball fight. No information about the source of the video or the claim accompanied the tweet.

Fact Check

Claim: A still depicts the “first recorded snowball fight” in 1897.

Description: A post on Twitter by ‘History in Pictures’ claims that a still image represents the ‘first recorded snowball fight’ from 1897.

Rating: Unknown

Rating Explanation: The Lumière brothers, who are credited with creating the first motion picture, made the video in question, raising the possibility that this could be the first recorded snowball fight. However, there isn’t a clear and definitive source that can confirm it is indeed the first ever recorded snowball fight.

In reply tweets, reporter Brendan Keefe shared what appeared to be a blurrier, not colorized version of the video:

An attached video from YouTube was titled “Bataille de Boules de Neige (Louis Lumière, 1896.)” Google Trends indicated that searches for “first ever snowball fight” peaked on December 14 2022.

On December 12 2022, the clip was shared to Imgur with the same description:

A search for “first recorded snowball fight” returned a Wikipedia entry as a top result, “Bataille de neige“; it indicated the clip originated with a “short silent film” in 1897. That entry contained a summary of the footage in a section labeled “Plot,” but made no reference to the video representing the “first recorded snowball fight”:

The camera is centered on a pathway made through a snow-covered city street. On both side of the pathway, several men and women are engaged in a snowball fight. A cyclist rides into the path of the fight, and is hit by snowballs, causing him to lose control of his bicycle and fall to the ground. His cap is flung onto the pathway. One male participant in the engagement grabs hold of the cyclist’s bicycle and lifts it off the ground, and the fallen cyclist scrambles to his feet and yanks his bicycle away from the participant. After retrieving possession of his bicycle, the cyclist climbs back atop it and rides away.

Wikipedia credited “the Lumiére brothers” as producers for the film. According to Brittanica.com, the Lumiére brothers were notable for (among other things) creating what is “considered the first motion picture”:

Lumière brothers, French inventors and pioneer manufacturers of photographic equipment who devised an early motion-picture camera and projector called the Cinématographe (“cinema” is derived from this name). Auguste Lumière … and his brother Louis Lumière … created the film La Sortie des ouvriers de l’usine Lumière (1895; “Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory”), which is considered the first motion picture.

… [In 1894, their] father, Antoine, was invited to a showing of Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope in Paris; his description of the peephole machine on his return to Lyon set Louis and Auguste to work on the problem of combining animation with projection. Louis found the solution, which was patented in 1895. At that time they attached less importance to this invention than to improvements they had made simultaneously in colour photography. But on December 28, 1895, a showing at the Grand Café on the boulevard des Capucines in Paris brought wide public acclaim and the beginning of cinema history.

In November 2020, the New York Times published “Watch This Snowball Fight From 1897 for a Jolt of Pure Joy,” an editorial contrasting the mood of the film with the unpleasant events of 2020. No mention of it being the “first ever recorded” snowball fight appeared in the piece, which focused on tone and content.

Over the last month [in late 2020], as a coping mechanism, I have been watching the same viral video over and over and over. It is not a campaign ad or a supercut of triumphant congressional zingers. In fact, it is the opposite: a brief clip of old-timey French people pelting one another with snowballs. This is my favorite film of 2020 — a tiny masterpiece that perfectly distills not only our current mayhem but also, more profoundly, our baffling displacement in time.

The footage was captured in Lyon, in 1897, by the Lumière brothers, who were among the world’s first filmmakers. It was originally black and white, of course, and herky-jerky because of the low frame rate. But this snowball fight has recently been colorized and smoothed, and the result is shockingly modern.

The video shows 52 seconds of joyful carnage: a gaggle of antiquated French people hucking compacted snow at one another’s faces with terrifying ferocity … And then there is the bicycle. This is the peak moment of brutality, when the whole group loses its collective goddamn mind. Right from the start, you can see the cyclist coming: a small figure, growing larger every second, gliding smoothly on an angle toward the fray. Before he even reaches the crowd, he starts to take distant fire. And yet he is determined to ride on. When he arrives, all the warring factions turn to unite against him, unleashing a wickedly targeted cyclone. The cyclist takes hard shots to the arm, the face, the back, the neck. Still he pedals forward, hunching his back, spinning his long legs — a stoic hero, intent on gliding through the violence, determined to reach the safety of the other side.

Given that the Lumière brothers were credited with something “considered the first motion picture,” it was perhaps likely the clip was the first recorded snowball fight in history (in terms of film). The clip was real and well documented in history, not altered to appear old. However, we were unable to confirm it was definitively the “first ever recorded snowball fight” in history, and so we rate this claim Unknown.