Whether you live in perpetually sunny California or frost-covered Alaska, a snowball fight is a universally recognized image of winter fun. It’s an activity that appeals to both our inner strategist and inner child. There’s the instant gratification of seeing your projectile instantly exploding into a powdery cloud upon impact. Then there’s the more long-term thrill of trying to covertly hit a target without getting hit yourself. And let’s be honest—it’s all the more satisfying if the target is an unsuspecting victim.
A video posted to Twitter by “History in Pictures” shows a group of men and women engaging in “the first ever recorded snowball fight,” which dates all the way back to 1897. At one point, even a cyclist riding down the snow-covered street gets pelted and thrown off his bike.
If you watch the video—which has gone mega viral online, with more than 18 million views—you might find yourself thinking, wait a minute, this thing’s in color … that can’t be right. But rest assured, while the clip floating around on Twitter might have undergone a makeover, it’s based on authentic footage.
Below is the original black-and-white film, shot in Lyon, France, and titled “Bataille de neige,” aka “Snow Fight.”
According to “The First Obsession,” which shared the video on YouTube, it was a short silent film produced by the Lumière brothers, pioneers of photography made famous for their inventions that revolutionized cinema—in particular, the Autochrome Lumière, which introduced color photography.
The original video was put through “DeOldify,” an open-source AI tool for retouching pictures and videos (yes, I know AI is a trigger word these days) by history/tech hobbyist Joaquim Campa back in 2020. The clip went viral back then as well, even getting featured by New York Times contributor Sam Anderson, who called the colorized, smoothed-out footage “shockingly modern.” And now it’s taking over the internet once again.
First ever recorded snowball fight (1897) pic.twitter.com/c6t6A0Mgo0
— History In Pictures (@HistoryInPics) December 11, 2022
Though that first recording might have been in the late 1800s, snowball fights date back much earlier. Some say that the trend began in Boston in 1770 between angry colonists and British soldiers, perhaps even being the real “shot heard round the world” that ushered in the American Revolution. But tapestries and artworks from all over the world have been found showing people engaging in this popular winter activity, one of the oldest hailing from the 11th century.
Basically, humans have always known on some primal, instinctual level that hurling softly frozen water at people is insanely enjoyable.