Workplace Safety Films from Thomas Edison Studios

April 24, 2017

Two of the oldest items in the National Association of Manufacturers collection are The Workman’s Lesson and Crime of Carelessness from 1912. Not only are these films over a 100 years old but they also were produced by the National Association of Manufacturers and Thomas Edison Studios.

Crime of Carelessness (Fall 1912) stresses the necessity of following safety instructions posted in factories.

Mr. Waters, the owner of a large woolen mill, is careless about keeping the fire exits clear. The factory inspector listens to Mr. Waters’ promise to right matters and does not report him.

Tom Watts, an employee in the mill then breaks the rule prohibiting smoking. Tom and Hilda Fox, another employee of the mill, are lovers. With the wedding only a day away Tom carelessly throws the match he used to light his cigarette into a pile of rubbish in the basement of the mill.

A fire breaks out and Tom is barely able to make his escape up the fiery stairway. Smoke fills all parts of the mill and hundreds of employees rush for the fire exits only to find them locked or blocked with heavy boxes.

Tom uses a fire axe to cut a way for the trapped crowd to escape. Upon reaching to the street, he finds that Hilda is still in the mill. He goes back into the building, finds an unconscious Hilda and carries her to the street where he acknowledges his blame in setting the mill on fire.

Tom is driven out of town and unable to secure work after Hilda was badly injured in the fire. These circumstances lead Tom to contemplate suicide which is prevented only by the timely arrival of Hilda with a letter from Waters that acknowledges both men’s blame and invites Tom to return to the new factory.

They both having learned a needed lesson.

The Workman’s Lesson (1912) emphasizes the importance of following safety measures.

Wenzel, who works in the machine shop of a big plant, lives in a nearby cottage with his daughter, Lischen. A young Italian, Bokko, who is out of work, passes the Wenzel cottage and befriends Lischen.

After Wenzel returns from work Bokko comes again and asks for help finding a job. At the machine shop, Bokko is put to work at a big lathe. He is interested in the safety device that covers part of the lathe, but Wenzel snorts with contempt for it.

The acquaintance between Bokko and Lischen develops into love and the two become engaged. Then, one day in the shop, influenced by Wenzel’s contempt, Bokko leaves the safety device open.

There is an accident and his arm is badly mangled. Wenzel blames himself realizing he was the one who led Bokko into carelessness.

Once discharged from the hospital, Bokko returns to the home of his sweetheart. While greeting her Wenzel sees the empty sleeve hanging at Bokko’s side and breaks down. But Bokko, throwing back his coat, discloses his bandaged but now nearly normal arm. Wenzel has been taught an important lesson.

During an employee health and safety committee meeting for NAM members on September 7, 1967 one or both of the films were shown, eliciting interest from companies. They requested copies to rent or purchase, believing the films would “bring both change of pace and perspective to safety meetings.” Silent films were “in vogue” at the time too, particularly among young people.  

The NAM collection has these films as 16mm film, Betacam SP and DVD. Additionally, the films have been digitized and can be viewed in our Digital Archives.