The ubiquitous microfilm reel: National Archives facilities nationwide are chock full of 'em!


                                   NARA Microfilm Box and Reel Popping Out.jpg


   Where did they all come from? Well, here's the story:


   Our infant agency immediately saw the possibilities for this technology. A division for photographic

   reproduction of records was one of the first priorities when the National Archives was established,

   and microfilming was going to be a big part of its job from the get-go.


                    RG 64, P 67, file 1936 - Washington Star, March 1, 1936 Article.jpg

                       NAID 7582964, file "1936"


                                         64-NA-189 Microfilm Camera, 1937.jpg                 

                                             NAID 12168564

                                          Copying of issues of The Washington Post with microfilm camera,

                                                     Division of Photographic Archives and Research, 1937



    Dr. Vernon D. Tate was appointed Chief of the Division of Photographic Archives and Research.

    In addition to his duties at the Archives, he traveled widely, evangelizing on the benefits of microphotography:

    reducing storage for bulky paper documents and promoting wider use of the records via their conveniently

    pint-sized proxies.


                                       64-NA-485B Vernon D. Tate, 1946 - Cropped.JPG

                                          NAID 18519945

                                                                       Dr. Vernon D. Tate, 1946



   The work of the division was featured in an article in the July 1938 issue of the new magazine Popular Photography:


           Uncle Sam's Photo Diary, p. 16.jpg  Uncle Sam's Photo Diary, p. 17.jpg


                                                               Uncle Sam's Photo Diary, p. 91.jpg  Uncle Sam's Photo Diary, p. 92.jpg

                       NAID 7582964, file "1938"



   At the Archives, staff were making use of microfilm copies in their work. In this 1940 photo,

   Mary Vance Wilson of the Division of Research and Publications is copying information from a reel.


                            64-NA-362 Copying Info from Microfilm, 1940.JPG

                              NAID 12168960



   As World War II descended, the military services were establishing and expanding their microfilming programs.

   Perhaps the best-known of these was V-Mail.


                           111-SC-164865 - V-Mail Tableau.jpg

                              111-SC-164865, from NAID 530707



   During the war, Dr. Tate transferred to the Department of the Navy to help get its microphotography program

   off the ways.


                            64-NA-387 Microfilming Project of the Navy Dept. 1942.jpg

                               NAID 12169006

                                Workers examining microfilm for defects in the Navy's Microphotographic Section.

                                      John E. Lown, assistant chief of the section (in bow tie), looks on. 1942



   Meanwhile, the National Archives had established the File Microcopy program in 1940, by which select records

   of high research value would be microfilmed and sold to institutions and the public. This transformed into the

   Microfilm Publications program in the early 1950s, which continues to the present day.



                     NAID 18519863



                 RG 64, P 74 - List of File Microcopies, 1950 - Cover.jpg   NARA Microfilm Publication M1920.jpg



    Here is an illustration of just how much space could be saved with microfilming. All of the oversize glass negatives

    pictured here were copied onto the reel that Ms. Cahoon is holding:


                           64-NA-2203 Fannie Cahoon with Microfilm, 1963 - compressed.jpg

                             NAID 12170484

                                                       Fannie Cahoon with Microfilm in Photo Lab, 1963



    But as great as microfilm is, it still has its problems.

    Raise your hand if you've ever said "I can't read it; it's too faded!"


                                       RG 64, P 79, file General Reference - Complaint About 1830 Census Microfilm, 1957.jpg

                                          NAID 7788317, file "General Reference"



    And don't you love it when some nincompoop has wound the reel backwards? Grrr....


    And it deteriorates.


   But now there is stable polyester base film that will last decades, if not longer. And just in time to digitize it!


   But wait, are you up for going microfiche-ing, too?


                       NARA Microfiche for RG 75, fiche 2.jpg


    Yeah, me neither.




    Here is information on how to  Request and Order Reproductions. from the National Archives.