"Life of an American Fireman" is a 1903 short film, running about six minutes, by The Edison Manufacturing Company, directed by George S. Fleming and Edwin S. Porter, and starring James H. White, Arthur White and Vivian Vaughn. James H. White was one of the earliest cinematographers, but here he is instead on the other end of the camera, acting out the role of the fire chief.

Needless to say, a film shot in 1903 only rudimentarily adheres to what we would consider the structure of a film. There is no sound, of course, including no music. There also are no intertitles. There is no characterization or even close-ups of the actors faces. There is no credits at the beginning or end, and the movie ends abruptly with no break in the action. And yet, this movie is considered to be one of the first movies with a plot, or a story at least. It proceeded Edwin S. Porter's "The Great Train Robbery" by two years, and that film built on some of the things present in this film. The movie is a semi-documentary, showing the rescue by a group of firemen of a woman and her child in a burning building. The movie starts by showing the burning house, switches to a shot of the firemen, and then follows them as they spring into action. About a minute of the film is just horse-drawn fire engines galloping in front of the camera while people watch. The film then shows the firemen at the scene, and cuts off abruptly while they are hosing down the building.

To a current audience, the film is obviously more interesting for what its place in the history of film, and as a contemporary account of fire-fighting, than it is as entertainment in its own right. Along with the very crude story telling, the film is also grainy, and the camerawork is jerky. However, it is still an interesting look into the beginning of the American film industry.

Information on the film can be found at the IMDB at: