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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.

Last fall, we told you about films from Project Blue Book, the United States Air Force investigation into unidentified flying objects. In addition to records related to the search for UFOs, the National Archives and Records Administration also holds records concerning Identified Flying Objects. One of the most remarkable of these is the Avrocar.

Avrocar4

A test pilot flies through a field of dandelions.

The Avrocar was initially intended to be a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft that could travel at speeds of up to Mach 4. During the Cold War, traditional airport runways were seen as easy targets for an attack. With a fleet of VTOL aircraft, the United States could build underground airports, protected from Soviet bombers. The Avrocar would ascend through a shaft and then zip away at supersonic speeds.

The Avrocar’s disc shape and ability to hover bring to mind the flying saucers that we associate with extraterrestrial sources, but the project never really got off the ground–both figuratively and literally. From the start, the design was unstable and difficult to fly. Through extensive testing and modifications, Canada’s Avro Aircraft Limited was able to improve stability, but the Avrocar was still only able to hover at a height of about three feet and travel at speeds not exceeding 35 mph.

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is home to a number of records from the Avrocar project. Some of these records were declassified in the fall of 2012, including schematic drawings and project reports. Other records, including the motion picture progress reports featured in this post, have been available to the public for much longer.

Aside from their discoidal subject, the filmed progress reports on the Avrocar are very similar to film reports for other military projects. Manufacturers of aircraft and other equipment were often contractually required to provide reports on film to demonstrate successes or the obstacles facing completion. In NARA’s records you will find film reports for everything from helicopters to missile systems.

In the Avrocar progress report films, you can see the development and improvement of the vehicle during the period between February 1958 and June 1961. The first film illustrates the construction of a wooden mock-up of the disc, prior to construction of the prototypes. The second film addresses modifications to the initial design to help improve stability and the pilot’s control of the vehicle. The final film follows the Avrocar as it is unleashed on a test course containing real-world conditions the aircraft is expected to successfully navigate. While the vehicle successfully crosses ditches and rough terrain, it turns out that all the dust and debris kicked up by the rotor was sucked right back into the disc’s air intake, resulting in limited flight time.

Though the progress report films demonstrate improvements in the Avrocar’s design and operation over a three year period, by the end of the final film it is apparent that meeting the project’s original goals would require a huge investment in overhauling the design. At the end of 1961, the Pentagon cancelled the project.

If you’d like to see the military’s flying saucer, one of the Avrocar prototypes is on display at the National Museum of the US Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. For an in-depth history of the Avrocar’s development, check out this 2003 Smithsonian Air & Space magazine article!



This week in 1951, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were found guilty of providing secret information about atomic weapons technology to the USSR. The couple were sentenced to death on April 5, 1951 and were executed in June of 1953.

From the release sheet:

DEATH FOR ATOM SPIES! New York- It’s a verdict of death in the electric chair for Julius Rosenberg and his wife Ethel, convicted of betraying their country by giving atom-bomb secrets to the enemy. Spy drama comes to the grim climax as Judge Irving Kaufman passes sentence on the Rosenbergs, with accomplice Morton Sobell getting thirty years.

Death to Atom Spies0001

You may view the complete reel, including all the stories listed on the release sheet above. Just a warning: the story about the sea turtle harvest could be upsetting considering the light tone the story takes toward the slaughter of a species now classified as endangered (Audrey actually screamed while transferring it in the lab). Luckily, the reel ends on a bright note, with a celebrity circus featuring sad clown Emmett Kelly, Jimmy Durante, comic actor Ed Wynn, burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee, and Celeste Holm riding an elephant.

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A clown films the celebrity circus.

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.



This week we’re featuring Professor I.M. Nuts, a gentleman who demonstrates his spectacular inventions in several Universal News stories. In this story, Prof. Nuts shows off a gadget that will prevent you from ruining your day while eating grapefruit. According to Nuts, “every home should have at least half a dozen”!

Have you ever had your “whole day” ruined by a grapefruit? You need Oakes’ ingenious invention. Watch to find out how it works!

Professor Nuts was actually Russell E. Oakes, of Waukesha, Wisconsin. Oakes made a career of presenting ridiculous solutions to simple problems like eating corn on the cob (see this 1939 Popular Science article for more background). In some ways, Oakes was ahead of his time–he’s kind of a cross between something you might see on The Onion and the pitchmen that sell you products to meet needs you never knew you had until you see how overwhelmed that woman in the commercial gets while trying to butter toast.

Although Oakes gained fame by playing up his inventions for laughs, there is a certain amount of earnestness in his demonstrations. In this clip, Oakes states that his “breakfast cap” is patented. In fact, he held at least one serious patent, for a novel method of constructing a device that holds advertising cards.

You can see some of Oakes’ gadgets at the Waukesha County Museum.

From the release sheet:

PROF. NUTTS SOLVES PROBLEM.  Waukesha, Wisconsin.  Our old friend, the Sage of Waukesha, is again- with another of his devices to make living more pleasant.  This time, the Professor takes the difficulties out of grapefruit, that vicious citrus that dotes on squirting juice in the human eye.

Nuts5

Problem solved! Now you won’t end up “swearing at the stenographer”!

You may view the rest of the existing newsreel, including stories about Wallis Simpson‘s seclusion in a French chateau and a display of horsemanship from the Soviet cavalry, here.

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.



With Major League Baseball’s Opening Day right around the corner, the subject matter this week is Baseball.

Landscape

Local Identifier: 111-BA-1952, “Baseball game between Union prisoners at Salisbury, North Carolina, 1863”

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Local Identifier: 306-PSD-72-6712, Photograph of a Baseball Game between Boston and Chicago at South Side Park in Chicago, Illinois, August 14, 1904, Source: Library of Congress

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Local Identifier: 306-PS-57-5710 (Box 510), Photograph of Babe Ruth Sliding into Third Base, Source: Library of Congress

306-PSB-50-6892

Local Identifier: 306-PSB-50-6892, Photograph of Opening Day at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C., April 1950, Source: State Department

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Local Identifier: 306-PS-50-7551, “Jackie Robinson in his Brooklyn Dodgers Uniform, 1950”

306-PSD-65-1935

Local Identifier: 306-PSD-65-1935, Photograph of Shea Stadium in New York City, 1965, Source: USIA

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Local Identifier: 330-CFD-DF-SD-04-04276.jpeg, “The Tampa Bay Devil Rays Major League Baseball club, left, and the Detroit Tigers salute the military as part of their Opening Day celebration on April 2, 2002”, Photograph by TSGT Douglas K. Lingefelt

ENDURING FREEDOM

Local Identifier: 330-CFD-DN-SD-04-14135.jpeg, “An Afghani girl plays with her baseball and glove at Camp Harriman, located in the Orgun Province of Afghanistan, during Operation ENDURIG FREEDOM. Mr. Jay Smith, 96th Civil Affairs Battalion, donated the baseball equipment and this girl is reportedly the first Afghani girl, from her area, to ever own a ball and glove, 08/16/2002”, Photograph by PH2 (Dv) Eric Lippmann

070403-N-7981E-090

Local Identifier: 330-CFD-DN-SD-07-24672.jpeg, “U.S. Marine Corps SGT. James”Eddie”Wright grips the honorary game ball for the 5th Annual Seattle Mariners and Boeing Company co-sponsored Salute to the Armed Forces Night, a Major League baseball game which pays tribute to all men and women serving the U.S. military services. SGT. Wright, a bronze star recipient who lose both of his arms in combat in Iraq in 2004, delivered this ball to the mound as part of the pre-game ceremony before the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Oakland Athletics at Safeco Field, Seattle, Wash., on April 3, 2007”, Photograph by MC3 James R. Evans

 

 



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. In this post, Heidi answers a frequently asked question.

When you watch NARA’s video for The March on YouTube the first thing you see onscreen is a note that the film was “Preserved and Restored by the National Archives.” You may wonder why we make the distinction between preservation and restoration. Aren’t they the same thing?

The differences between preservation and restoration are subtle, but in the archives world they are profound. If we say that we have preserved a film, we are saying that we have taken steps to protect the integrity and accessibility of the images contained on the film. Preservation actions include storing a film properly in an inert can in cold storage, but they can also include copying the image from a deteriorated film base to a stable one. Successful preservation means that the image we have now is the same as the image we had yesterday, last month, or even decades ago.

If we say we have restored a film, we are saying that we have enhanced the film for exhibition. When you watch a film that is scratched or covered with blotches from water damage, these imperfections may distract you from what is happening onscreen. In the digital realm, using specially designed software, we are able to alter the image at the pixel level so that many imperfections disappear. The image looks better, but it is no longer the same as in the original film.

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In the Lab, we use specially designed software to digitally restore films like The March (1963) and John Huston’s Let There Be Light (1946).

You may wonder why it matters that the image has changed if it looks better in the restored version. In the National Archives Motion Picture Preservation Lab, we try to live by the “Rule of Reversibility”*, which states, “To the degree possible, a conservator should not undertake any procedure or treatment that he or she cannot later, if necessary, undo without harm to the [record].” Restoring a digital image in a way that permanently alters its pixels breaks this rule because these changes cannot be undone. There is no way to return the image to its original state.

When we restore a film in the Lab, we always make sure that it has been preserved first. The preserved copy of the film can then act as the best possible starting point for future restoration efforts. Because motion picture restoration software is rapidly improving, the restoration we are able to perform in 2024 will be better than the restoration we do in 2014. However, if we save only the restored version of a film today, the results we are able to achieve in ten years from that starting point will only add further distortions to the visual and audio information contained in the film. Digital restoration tools designed to work on film images may be confused by the digital manipulations of the first restoration. After subsequent “restorations”, the digital version becomes more and more difficult to connect to the image as it actually existed.

In the case of director James Blue’s The March, the Lab photochemically preserved the film before it was ever scanned for the restoration. The preserved record consists of reels of film protected in cold storage. The restored digital version is saved in addition to the preserved film, and is classified as a restoration that is a derivative of the preserved record. The restoration is made available on our YouTube page** and for theatrical projection. You can read more about the preservation and restoration of The March in our blog post “Protecting Your Past—It’s What We Do Here”.

*For more on the Rule of Reversibility and conservation philosophy, check out pages 336-340 in Preserving Archives and Manuscripts, Second Edition by NARA’s own Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler.

**Due to copyright restrictions, NARA was required to mute Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in our YouTube video, though the restored scenes are available for viewing.

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