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This post was written by Heidi Holmstrom. Heidi works in the Motion Picture Preservation Lab, which is responsible for performing conservation and preservation work on motion picture records held across the National Archives.

You may recall our blog post from the beginning of April about the Avrocar, the U.S. Air Force’s flying saucer. The Avrocar wasn’t the only futuristic mode of air transport developed by the military, and it certainly isn’t the only captured on film. At the National Archives and Records Administration, we also hold films depicting tests and demonstrations of jetpacks and flying platforms.


A pilot demonstrates the Jet Belt in Ft. Myers, Virginia, 1969.

Most of the military’s jetpack development was carried out by Bell Aerosystems. Tests of the Bell Rocket Belt began in 1960, starting with tethered indoor flights and gradually moving to untethered flights outdoors. The film below shows a demonstration flight from June 1961. Notice the pilot’s heat resistant jumpsuit, necessary to protect him from the rocket belt’s exhaust. Due to the limited amount of fuel it could contain, flights of the rocket belt were limited to about 20 seconds in duration.

111-LC-45135Test engineer Harold M. Graham demonstrates the rocket belt, 1961.

While the rocket belt used concentrated hydrogen peroxide as a fuel source, Bell Aerosystems also developed a Jet Belt propelled by kerosene jet fuel. The final segment of the film below shows a 1969 demonstration of the jet belt. This prototype was much heavier than the rocket belt and the pilot required a support frame to hold himself upright while wearing it on the ground. It was capable of flights lasting several minutes, but the complexity and real danger of pilot injury convinced the military to abandon development.

111-LC-54454The jet belt flew for several minutes, but was weighed down by extra fuel.

Like the Avrocar, the military’s flying platforms resemble flying saucers. The Hiller Aircraft VZ-1 Pawnee contained ducted rotors inside its saucer-shaped body and the pilot stood on top, steering it by shifting his weight. The film below shows 1955 test flights of the VZ-1, first with the pilot and platform on a tether, and later in free flight. The film also features an interview with the pilot about the aircraft.

428-NPC-11636A pilot tests the Hiller Aircraft VZ-1 Pawnee flying platform, 1955.

In 1959, Hiller Aircraft performed tests of a beefed-up flying platform designated the VZ-1E. The platform was much taller and the pilot controlled it with a joystick from a seated position. In the film below we can see both tethered and untethered test flights. While the platform does hover successfully, it appears to be difficult to control and does not achieve a high forward velocity.

72-CF-5:  The VZ-1E was larger than the VZ-1 and was controlled like a helicopter.

Like the jetpacks, these flying platforms were abandoned by the U.S. military, with the surviving prototypes now housed in museums. Still, the military has continued to show interest in these types of vehicles, testing the Williams X-Jet in 1983. Photos of these tests are available in NARA’s OPA catalog. Try searching for “flying platform” and “rocket belt” and see what else you can find!

The 1964 New York World’s Fair opened fifty years ago this week, on April 22nd, with the theme of “Man’s Achievements in an Expanding Universe.” If this extended Universal News story leaves you with the impression that the fair was not a runaway success, that’s because it wasn’t. The fair was not sanctioned by the Bureau of International Expositions, and it was sandwiched between the official 1962 Seattle World’s Fair and Expo 67 in Montreal, making it a less compelling draw. The opening day’s unfortunately dreary weather was emblematic of the entire two-season event; total attendance for the fair came in at fifty-one million, yet that fell short of the expected seventy million visitors. You might recognize the Unisphere sculpture and “flying saucer” towers in the still below from the 1997 film Men in Black, where they feature prominently.

From the release sheet:

THE FAIR Are you ready? It’s here!! The long-awaited New York World’s Fair, which took four years to create, opens its doors to the first of 70,000,000 expected visitors. Dominated by the Fair’s symbol THE UNISPHERE (which means Peace through understanding) the billion-dollar-baby of Robert Moses covers 646 acres. You’ll stumble across all sorts of staggering statistics as you travel the 4c miles of walkways that wind through this City of Enchantment lined with 139 Pavilions. Five crystal-clear fountains oscillate 10 million gallons of water through 5,000 nozzles – illuminated by 2.5 million watts. There are enough telephones at the Fair for a city of 200,000. (See what we mean by staggering statistics . . .) Opening day is marred by rain. President Lyndon Johnson makes the opening speech. Approximately 100,000 spartan souls braved the soggy weather for their first glimpse of what some say is “the experience of a lifetime”. From the air . . . from the ground . . . here are some highlights of the World’s Fair – theme of which is worth repeating “PEACE THROUGH UNDERSTANDING”. For the historically minded: America’s first Fair was held in New York in 1853.


The Unisphere at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, on a dreary and rather empty-looking opening day.

About the Universal Newsreel Collection at NARA:

The Universal Newsreel Collection is one of the most used motion picture collections at the National Archives and Records Administration. Universal Newsreels were shown in movie theaters twice a week, from 1929 until 1967, and covered a wide range of American life and history during that time period. Each release usually contained five to seven stories averaging two minutes in length.

In 1974, Universal deeded its edited newsreel and outtake collection to the United States through the National Archives (NARA), and did not place any copyright restrictions on its use (some stories may contain other underlying intellectual property or proprietary use rights).

While Universal disposed of many of the soundtracks, leaving the newsreels incomplete, supplementary material like scripts, shot lists, and event programs can be found in the production files, available for research at Archives II in College Park, Maryland.

Learn more about the Universal Newsreel Collection in this post and in this Prologue article. Watch other Universal Newsreels in our research room, in OPA, and on this playlist.

The photographs featured this week come from the series 165-BO, “British Photographs of World War I, 1914-1918”, (National Archives Identifier 533104), which is currently being digitized.


Local Identifier: 165-BO-1, “King George of England visits American cemetery near St. Quentin Canal, France, 12/2/1918”


Local Identifier: 165-BO-38, “King of England talking to Scottish soldiers, France”


Local Identifier: 165-BO-78, “Detachment of Americans leave for the front, Le Havre, France, 7/12/1918”


Local Identifier: 165-BO-80, “American troops advancing at Premont, France, 10/8/1918”


Local Identifier: 165-BO-159, “American soldiers leaving England for the Front”


Local Identifier: 165-BO-227, “Ship’s Company, U.S.S. Allen”


Local Identifier: 165-BO-333, “Issuing Grog to British sailors”


Local Identifier: 165-BO-367, “An officer leads the way amidst the bursting of German shells near Arras”


Local Identifier: 165-BO-515, “King George handing baseball to the captain of the Army team during Independence Day baseball game between the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy; General Biddle at King’s right (rear) and Admiral Sims on left. Stamford Bridge, England”


Local Identifier: 165-BO-735, “British soldier with a Belgian child, Adinkerke, Belgium”


Have you ever thought to yourself: “Those holes on the side of the film, I wonder what they’re for?” Maybe you were afraid to ask? If you think it sounds like a dumb question, let me assure you that some super-smart people have asked us this before. Today we’ll tell you not only what those holes do, but why they’re often a problem for those of us who work to preserve film.

TheMarchcroppedFirst, some terminology: “those holes on the side of the film” are commonly referred to as “perforations”, or sometimes “sprocket holes”. Here in the National Archives Motion Picture Lab, you’ll most likely hear us abbreviating the term to just “perf.”

The perforations are what sprocket rollers grab onto in order to pull film through a camera (for creation) or a projector (to present a finished product). In the case of the lab, the film is transported through a printer or scanner for duplication. If none of that means anything to you, picture a bike: The mechanics of film transport are the same as a bike chain traveling over a chainring.


The teeth of a sprocket roller engage a piece of film.

In an ideal world, perforations would always be able to perform as needed. Two major issues arise as a film ages that keep this from being the case. One is simply that the perforations are torn, or sometimes ripped completely from the film. Running a film with torn perfs over sprocket rollers frequently leads to multi-frame tears. Once a film is torn in the image area, the only thing we can do to physically repair it is carefully tape the pieces together with archivally-safe film splicing tape. The tear will always be visible in the physical copy (we can digitally restore it, but that does not change the film itself). To prevent further damage, we repair broken and torn perforations before we run a film on any kind of machine.


Can anybody see what’s wrong here?

Secondly, as a film ages, it tends to shrink. The metal sprockets on machines needed to play back film are set a specified distance apart, and do not shrink accordingly, of course. Even a seemingly small amount of shrinkage (1-1.5%) can cause problems for a film. Running an old film on equipment without first checking shrinkage can cause serious edge damage that could take hours or days to repair. In the lab, we frequently encounter old projection prints of educational films that were threaded incorrectly when projected. Usually, after about ten or twenty feet of perf damage, someone either realized something was really wrong and re-threaded, or we find a tear sloppily repaired with a piece of scotch tape because the film snapped (ask us how much we hate scotch tape).

Happily, our newer equipment was produced with shrunken film in mind. We usually have two sets of sprocket rollers to accommodate higher amounts of shrinkage. As long as we inspect and repair all of our film properly, we shouldn’t be damaging it.

I think I can safely say that extensive perf damage is the greatest single source of tedious labor in the Motion Picture Preservation Lab. We are glad to do it, though, because it means we will be able to duplicate the film to new film stock for preservation, or to digitize it for wider access.

Film Preservation 101 is an occasional series in which preservation specialists answer frequently asked questions about film. We welcome your questions in the comments. You can also tweet questions to @NARAMediaLabs.

As April 15 approaches, Americans across the country are filled with dread as they file their taxes and watch money disappear from their pockets. If history provides any relief, we are not the first to feel the burden. In 1789, Ben Franklin famously wrote, “In this world nothing can said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Albert Einstein reportedly said, “This [filing taxes] is too difficult for a mathematician, it takes a philosopher.” At the 1988 Republican National Convention, George H.W. Bush memorably preached, “Read my lips: No new taxes.”

Yet from Ben Franklin’s quips to George H.W.’s lips, American tax policy has gone through some dramatic changes. The first income tax was imposed in 1861 to fund Union troops during the Civil War. In 1913, the 16th amendment to the Constitution established a regular federal income tax. It was not until WWII that the government began taking money directly from employees’ paychecks. Then, in 1961, tax collecting fundamentally changed again when the Internal Revenue Service began using computers.

Right on the Button (Local ID: 58-2)

The film above was created in the late 1960s. It is part of a small collection of films that was produced by the IRS, and now preserved at the National Archives. This particular film, Right on the Button, showcases the “new tax tool” known as Automatic Data Processing (ADP) at the National Computer Center in Martinsburg, West Virginia. The film follows tax returns as they are transferred, processed, and fed into the ADP system. Viewers today are more likely captivated by the refrigerator-size computers and 1960s hairdos (see 6:27). But, the IRS created this film with a purpose: convince citizens that computers were beneficial.

When the IRS began using computers in 1961, many people were horrified. An article in Harper’s Magazine titled, “The Martinsburg Monster: A True Horror Story for Taxpayers,” described how computers limited the possibilities for refunds. A tax expert then envisioned a scenario in which erroneous notices forced people to overpay, or $100 million dollars in unwarranted refund checks were issued.

The shift towards computer technology also made Internal Revenue Commissioner, Mortimer Caplin, a well-known and controversial figure. One reporter accused Caplin of “bringing Big Brother into everyone’s life in the form of the Martinsburg Monster.” In February 1963, Caplin was the cover story of Time magazine, in which he supported the changes made under his administration. Controversy surrounding the IRS computers was not limited to water cooler conversations, it was reflected in the mass media.

Right on the Button attempts to combat these technology driven fears. The film highlights the benefits of a computerized system: Computers could speed up processing times, discover errors taxpayers make against themselves, and verify that all citizens pay a fair amount. Additionally, the film emphasizes the IRS employees who maintain and check the ADP system. This was likely an attempt to quell fears that computers would replace human jobs.


The shift towards computerized tax processing was revolutionary in catching tax evaders. ADP was used to compare an individual’s tax return with records from their employer; any discrepancies were then flagged for further investigation. Soon after implementation, the ADP system caught people filing duplicate returns and attempting other refund schemes.  Many refund checks were also withheld until taxpayers paid their dues from previous years. Fewer people got away with cheating, and many more were afraid to even attempt it.

In 2012, the IRS reported that 120 million people filed their taxes electronically. It seems that people no longer view computers as monsters. Then again, monsters are much less scary when they can fit on your lap.

Charles B. Seib, “The Martinsburg Monster: A True Horror Story for Taxpayers,” Harper’s Magazine, April 1962.

“Enter Balance Due Here,” Time, February 1963.