When you look through any series of textual records, you will encounter a wide variety of document types. Here is a look at the backstory of one of them: the photostat.



In the pre-Xeroxing days, there was a plethora of different reproduction methods if you needed a copy of a document. Mimeograph and Thermofax machines were fine for single sheet copies, but what did you do if you needed a copy of pages from a book, or a map, or some other type of oversize document? You would turn to the Photostat; in fact, this is one of the earliest mechanized documentary reproduction processes to be commercially successful.


Developed around 1910, the Photostat machine looked like a large view camera (which it essentially was), but it also had a built-in photographic developing system using huge rolls of photographic paper, film, and chemicals.


During World War I, the U.S. Shipping Board, among other agencies, made use of the new technology:


                        RG 32, A1 1A - Emergency Fleet News, Sept. 26, 1918 - Photostat and Blue Print Room, p. 11- Compressed.jpg

                           Emergency Fleet News, Sept. 26, 1918, p. 11, from NAID 574775



Here is one in use at the Department of the Treasury around 1920:


                       121-BA-1294 Photostat Machine Original.jpg

                          121-BA-1294, in NAID 532288



And here is a view of the National Archives' original Photostat machine, taken in the brand new Archives Building in July 1936:


                        64-NA-91 Photostat Room, July 1936 - Cropped.jpg                              

                         64-NA-91 (cropped from NAID 7820656)

                                     Automatic Photostat Machine, Division of Photographic Archives and Research



Note how the size and complexity of the machine have increased. Those earthenware crocks in the background hold the developer, stop bath, and fixer to process the Photostats. And it all happened inside the machine!


Here it is, with a full day's work to do:


                                 64-NA-501 Photostat Machine, 1947.JPG

                           64-NA-501 (NAID 18519964)     

                                                Continuous Photostat Machine by Thomas Bailey, 9/23/1947



At the National Archives, photostats were produced well into the 1980s. They were used for reproducing all manner of paper records throughout the holdings.  Here are two reproduction request forms tucked into a volume of Pardon Warrants (NAID 4509703) at Archives II:


                                Photostat Request Forms found in Pardon Warrant Volume 43.jpg

                           Found in http://research.archives.gov/description/4509703 volume 43



These bound volumes contain Photostat copies of the official pardons signed by the president. So, in 1947 the requester received a Photostat of a Photostat!


       Spine of Volume 43.jpg RG 204, PI-87 20, Volume 43, p. 304 - FDR Pardon page 1 - rotated left.jpgRG 204, PI-87 20, Volume 43, p. 305 - FDR Pardon page 2.jpg    



The machine was also used to reproduce large-format or fragile photographs in holdings of the National Archives' Still Picture Branch. The copies were then bound and housed in the research room, so that researchers could view the images and save wear and tear on the originals.


Here they are, awaiting their move to Archives II in early 1994:


                                                               Photostat Albums Ready to Move.jpg

                                                  Photo by Author


The photostat albums are still in use today. Here is an image from the immigration station at Angel Island, California:


                      90-G-152-2038 in RG 90 Photostat Album.jpg

                         90-G-152-2038, in NAID 522915

                                                                             Aliens Arriving


So, who thinks Photostats are awesome?


                             90-G-125-34 Kids Raising Hands at Ellis Island - Photostat.jpg

                          90-G-125-34, in NAID 522915                                                 

                                                                                   Ellis Island





Bonus: Here is a photo of Irish Prime Minister(Taoiseach) Eamon de Valera looking at a Photostat machine, ca. 1930s:


                            306-NT-721-40 Eamon de Valera with Photostat Machine.jpg

                                                             306-NT-721-40 Caption.jpg

                                  306-NT-721-40, in NAID 541877