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This post was written by Criss Kovac. Criss is the supervisor of the National Archives Motion Picture Preservation Lab. 

So, what would you do if you found what just may be the first color moving image footage of Yellowstone, but it was disguised as black and white images? Well, the staff in the NARA Motion Picture units got pretty darn excited because we’d just stumbled across some very rare film stock and truly unique footage!

First some background: NARA received a large accession of National Park Service records in the winter of 2012/2013. The Yellowstone Kodacolor was discovered while the Motion Picture Preservation Lab was processing the new collection accessioned from the National Park Service in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Because of the park’s popularity, the group of Yellowstone films was among the first of the collection to be inspected. As we were going through our accessioning inspection process we came across a reel that appeared to be black and white, but the words on the edge said, “KODACOLOR.” Other edge markings told us that the film was shot in 1930. With that bit of information, we realized that this reel could be among the earliest color films of Yellowstone National Park.


Kodacolor is black and white to the eye, but is color when projected through the proper filter.

An early reversal color home movie format produced by Kodak, Kodacolor only existed for a handful of years, beginning in 1928, until it was replaced by the much more successful Kodachrome in 1935. Kodacolor appears to the human eye as black and white images, but the base side of the film is embossed with hundreds of tiny lenses (called lenticules) that look like minuscule ridges on the surface of the film base. The lenticules captured the color information from the scene while it was filmed through a color filter with red, green, and blue-violet stripes. In order to see the color the film then had to be projected back through a similar color filter. Kodachrome had many advantages over Kodacolor because it was possible to create duplicates, did not require extra filters, and did not have vertical lines (the lenticules) running through the image. Most people have at least heard of Kodachrome, but few have encountered Kodacolor. (For more on how Kodacolor works and to see pictures of the camera and projectors, see here.)

A before and after representation of what Kodacolor looks like to the naked eye versus the color that is encoded in the emulsion.

Because Kodacolor is so rare and requires specialized technology to access the color hidden in the film, there isn’t a huge preservation market for the obsolete format. We have a fully operational film preservation lab at NARA (one of the last in the country), but we do not have the ability to preserve the color information in Kodacolor. We can photochemically preserve or digitally transfer Kodacolor in black and white, but to see 1930 Yellowstone in full-color, we needed to use an outside vendor. We sent a query out to our professional organization, the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) for help in locating a lab that could preserve this footage for us.

As a result of the query, Tommy Aschenbach from Video Film Solutions reached out to us to let us know that he was in the process of creating a software program that could decode the color information captured in the film. We scanned the film at NARA on our Spirit 4K scanner and provided Tommy with the scans to test and improve the software. We had our first glimpse of the images from the software when Tommy presented at The Reel Thing Symposium at the annual AMIA conference in Richmond in November of 2013.

Our work wasn’t done yet, however. We were able to see the decoded images, but we wanted to make sure that we saved the color information captured in the film using the best method possible – printing it back onto film. So, we wrote a grant proposal asking the National Film Preservation Foundation to fund a film copy generated directly from the decoded color file. Happily, the grant was awarded to NARA in June and we’ve begun working with Mr. Aschenbach at Video Film Solutions to make that preservation process happen and secure these images on film for posterity.

In addition to the technical aspects of the film we were also interested to know who shot the film in the first place and who the human subjects were that featured prominently. Kodacolor wasn’t widely available and was generally used by affluent people with an interest in photography since it required specialized cameras and relatively expensive film stock. Was it done by Park staff? Was it for the visit of the “Senator Rule” who receives a welcome cake in the clip above? We’ll probably never really know, but a note on the original leader suggests that the film may have been shot by Jack E. Haynes, the park’s official photographer. With some expert sleuthing done by NARA archivist Laurel Macondray in consultation with Anne Foster at the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center, we were able to determine that the “Senator Rule” named on the cake is Iowa state senator Arthur L. Rule. Senator Rule was passionate about Yellowstone and visited the park no less than ten times. He also gave lectures about the park during the winter. We believe this footage was shot during Senator Rule’s 1930 visit to Yellowstone.

While we’re not sure how this unique film came to be stored with the Yellowstone films at the National Park Service we’re grateful that it found its way here, where the footage will be preserved and accessible (in full color!) for future generations.

Special thanks go to Janice Wheeler at the National Park Service Harpers Ferry Center, Anne Foster at Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center, Tommy Aschenbach at Video Film Solutions, and to the National Film Preservation Foundation for making preservation of this film possible.

The launch of Sputnik and the space race led to an era of optimism which influenced pop-culture in America and overseas. We imagined where we might live, the clothes we might wear and the cars we might drive. Words and phrases such as astro and space age entered our vocabulary as a way to describe our sense of the future. The following films are a record of that time and include a Sputnik amusement ride, a fashion show, a concept car and a space bed.

Space Rides in 1950s America

An exhibit in the United States pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair documented and promoted the American way of life with a series of short films. This film shows a shopping center and some amusement rides that include a Sputinik ride.

59.210  “Shopping Center”

Cars of the Future-The XNR Idea Car

 From Universal News 3/7/1960 “IDEA CAR” ON THE ROAD: On a Detroit proving ground, a glimpse of the XNR “IDEA CAR”, a new departure in styling and radical design that may foreshadow things to come on our highways in the future.

Space Culture in Fashion

From Universal News 3/10/1967 the ASTRO FASHIONS At a Planetarium in West Germany, fashion designers show their ideas of what future space-ladies will wear in the year two thousand. Plastic covers and capes, helmet-hats, and transparent boots are all highlighted in this “space-age” style show.

Bringing Outer Space to the Home

From Universal News 9/5/1967 ELECTRONIC BEDS Tokyo’s annual Bed Show displays everything from a “Space Bed” with stereo and TV to a bed that tosses and turns you, to help find the most comfortable position. Also: twin beds which slide into a “double” at the press of a button.

The world’s first parking meter was installed in Oklahoma City on July 16th, 1935. Today, advanced parking meters allow a driver to pay by mobile phone, but the first parking meters required a nickel to operate. This story from Universal News demonstrates the novelty of the new invention.

From the release sheet:
Town Clocks Parking Time

Oklahoma City, OKLA.-Curbside meters, operating on deposit of a nickel, measure the time automobiles are left on the busy streets.  Congestion is reduced and the police find less need to hand out tickets for over-long-parking.

You may view the complete newsreel, including stories about the development of super-strong safety glass, a cherry festival in Michigan, the National Swimming and Diving championships at Manhattan Beach, girl campers in South Casco, Maine, a rodeo in California, and others,  here.


A woman prepares to insert a nickel into one of the world’s first parking meters.

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.

Today we’re debuting our new name!

From now on, the blog of the National Archives’ Special Media Services Division will be known as The Unwritten Record. We’ll feature the same great content—film, photographs, videos, sound recordings, and other non-textual records from the National Archives’ holdings– just with a new and improved name! Media Matters was fine, but we had an opportunity to make a change and wanted a name that better conveyed what we’re about.

In arriving at a new name, we wanted it to express both the ideas of non-textual records and history at the same time, in just a couple of words that would be easy to remember and easy to find. A quick check of synonyms for “media” made us realize that, to most people out there, the word doesn’t mean what it means to us. Luckily, we have a crack group of bloggers that brainstormed long and hard to arrive at our new name. By “unwritten” we’re emphasizing the fact that we work with materials that were not technically written; for the most part they were recorded by cameras or other equipment, or perhaps drawn as is the case with the maps and patent records in the Cartographic Branch. And with “record,” well, we’re the National Archives, and we’re in the business of preserving the records of the United States government. These items aren’t just interesting, they’re bits and pieces that make up the record of our nation’s history.


Over time, the details may change, but our mission is the same! Still from The Archives (1940)

Credit goes to Richie for the stroke of inspiration. We’re very happy with our new name–I hope you like it, too!

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.

Today is the anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11, the fifth manned mission in NASA’s Apollo program, and the first to land humans on the surface of the Moon. Apollo 11 was the culmination of a decade of work to develop the technology necessary to meet President Kennedy’s goal of “landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” As it undertook each mission that would act as a building block for Apollo, NASA recorded its growing body of knowledge in many formats, including motion picture film. Many of these films are available to researchers through the National Archives and Records Administration.

The Lunar Orbiter program was an essential step toward the Moon landing, and it is documented in a fascinating NASA film titled Close Up of the Moon: A Look at Lunar Orbiter.

NASA launched five Lunar Orbiter missions between August 1966 and August 1967 with the intention of photographing the surface of the Moon and identifying potential Apollo landing sites. Described as an “orbiting photographic laboratory,” each Lunar Orbiter spacecraft used a camera to shoot high-resolution and wide-angle images onto 70mm film. The film was developed with an onboard processor and then scanned line-by-line for transmission back to Earth. Altogether, the Lunar Orbiter missions photographed 99% of the surface of the Moon.*

In addition to identifying landing sites, NASA scientists also had to develop their understanding of the human body so that spacecraft and spacesuits could be designed to protect the astronauts. The following clip from the stunning 1970 film Moonwalk One† depicts the many tests designed for this purpose and unveils Command Module Columbia, a life-sustaining capsule that would return the astronauts safely home.

Of course, Columbia was only one piece of the puzzle. Spacesuits with Portable Life Support System backpacks were necessary to keep the astronauts alive when they exited Lunar Module Eagle to explore the surface of the Moon. Moonwalk One shows the construction of a spacesuit as we hear the women who sew and manufacture it speaking about their work and the idea of going into space. They well understood the importance of their work. One tiny defect could easily put an astronaut’s life at risk.

It was contributions like these that made it possible for Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to walk on the Moon as Michael Collins orbited overhead in Columbia. Decades after the Moon landing, we sometimes forget just how big the achievement was. There were so many points at which a single small failure could have meant failure for the mission. In the end, the spacecraft and equipment performed as they were designed to, and under the skilled guidance of the Apollo crew and Mission Control in Houston, the United States became the first, and so far only, country to send astronauts to the Moon and back.

This animation from Moonwalk One shows all the stages of the Apollo 11 mission. As designed, the only component to return to Earth was CM Columbia.


Building Command Module Columbia.

*For more about the Lunar Orbiter images, check out the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project! LOIRP, funded by NASA and private partners, is successfully digitizing and recovering images from analog tapes holding the data sent back to Earth by the Lunar Orbiter spacecraft.

Moonwalk One was directed by Theo Kamecke for NASA and released in theaters in 1970. Because it contains some copyrighted material (clips from television programs, etc.), the National Archives is unable to post the entire film online.