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October 29 marks the 85th anniversary of Wall Street’s most infamous day, Black Tuesday. While the crash alone did not cause the Great Depression, the sharp drop in stock prices symbolized the end of the Roaring Twenties and the beginning of a decade of hardship. As prices plummeted, many lost their life savings. Many more lost faith in American financial institutions. The photographs below reflect the chaos and sorrow that emanated from the stock market crash and run on the banks. These photos are from the New York Times Paris Bureau, and now part of the holdings in the Still Picture department at NARA.

Wall Street in panic due to heavy trading. October, 1929.  306-NT-157.062C

Wall Street in panic due to heavy trading. October, 1929.
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Unemployed men queued outside a depression kitchen opened in Chicago by Al Capone. Feb. 1931. 306-NT-165.319C

Unemployed men queued outside a depression kitchen opened in Chicago by Al Capone. Feb. 1931. 
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stand guard at the entrance to the World Exchange Bank at 174 Second Avenue, New York City.  It had been closed down today due to a run on it. March 20, 1931. 306-NT-443-J-1

Police stand guard at the entrance to the World Exchange Bank at 174 Second Avenue, New York City. It had been closed down today due to a run on it. March 20, 1931.
306-NT-443-J-1

Crowd gathers in front of the doors of the Bank of the United States on Freeman Street, New York.  April, 1931. 306-NT-166.153C

Crowd gathers in front of the doors of the Bank of the United States on Freeman Street, New York. April, 1931.
 306-NT-166.153C

Groups of depositors in front of the closed American Union Bank, New York City.  April 26, 1932. 306-NT-677-B-177.476C

Groups of depositors in front of the closed American Union Bank, New York City. April 26, 1932.
306-NT-677-B-177.476C

Crowds gather as hundreds of thousands of dollars in “Scrip Money” are burned.  The notes were issued after the bank had closed.  April, 1933. 306-NT-177.567CCrowds gather as hundreds of thousands of dollars in “Scrip Money” are burned. The notes were issued after the bank had closed. April, 1933.
306-NT-177.567C



On October 30, 1938, CBS broadcast a radio play of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. The novel, first published in serial form in 1897, tells the story of an alien invasion of England. The Mercury Theatre on the Air production changed the location to New Jersey and employed a series of news bulletins to heighten the realism of the story. The next day, national media reported widespread panic, with citizens taking to the streets and scores of injuries resulting. The “panic” was more likely media hype: while some listeners were tricked, there is little evidence that the few who missed the frequent disclaimers actually took action or injured themselves because of the broadcast. Whatever the extent of the terror The War of the Worlds incited, the broadcast has become legendary. In a press conference the following day, 23-year-old Orson Welles explained why he didn’t expect listeners to think the well-known story was true. The actor-director’s exhaustion is more than just mental–Welles had stayed up until dawn rehearsing a new play.

From the release sheet:

RADIO PLAY TERRIFIES NATION.   New York, N.Y. Thousands of radio listeners throughout the U.S. are frightened into mass hysteria by a dramatization of H.G.Wells’ old thriller, “The War of the Worlds”, as staged by Orson Welles, young actor-manager.

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Orson Welles is surrounded by reporters at a press conference.

 You may view the complete reel, which also includes stories about new car technology and a college football roundup, on our YouTube channel. The newsreel is incomplete and the full soundtrack no longer exists.

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.



On October 21, 1967, an estimated crowd of 100,000 gathered by the Lincoln Memorial in Washington to protest the Vietnam War and march on the Pentagon. Organized by the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, the demonstration was the first major national protest against the Vietnam War. Along with the signs, chants, and other hallmarks of an anti-war demonstration, activists Abbie Hoffman, Allen Ginsberg, Ed Sanders, and Jerry Rubin planned an exorcism designed to raise the Pentagon off its foundation and put an end to the war. While the exorcism was mostly designed as political theater, the group purportedly met with officials from the General Services Administration and obtained permission to attempt a three-foot levitation (reduced dramatically from their original plan of 300 feet). The group also planned to use an airplane to drop a multitude of daisies on the Pentagon. They were foiled by the FBI at the airport, but the daisies played a part in creating one of the most iconic images of the late 1960s–that of a young protester placing a flower into the barrel of a National Guardsman’s rifle. By the end of the protest, the Pentagon remained firmly on its foundation, nearly 700 protesters had been jailed, and dozens were hospitalized. While it would be nearly seven years until the end of fighting in Vietnam, the march on the Pentagon had a lasting impact on public discussions surrounding the war. In its contemporary assessment of the events, the Universal News narration straddles the political line, saying that both sides ended up as losers.

From the release sheet: 

WASH, D.C. DEMO– Violence at the Pentagon, more than six-hundred persons arrested, and the general feeling that everyone lost are the parts and sum of a two-day anti-Vietnam-War demonstration in the nation’s capital.

protest-3

Anti-war protesters march in a “three hour parade across the Potomac” to demonstrate at the Pentagon.

You may view the complete reel, which also includes stories about a new fire extinguisher created in response to tragic fires on Navy aircraft carriers, an inflatable windshield, and college football, on our YouTube channel.

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

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the premiere of Fury Wednesday night and seeing the film (on film even!) reinforced what I know about World War II from the reels I see in NARA’s holdings on a regular basis. War is frighteningly loud; war is unbelievably gruesome; war reveals the best and worst traits of human beings. That being said, what struck me the most is how important film is in chronicling events from WWII in modern times and how important films were in documenting what happened at the time. Films were used to encourage enlistment, train troops, bolster morale, document the war, and inform troops and the American people about what was happening in Europe and the Pacific.

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The First Motion Picture unit in action.
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The United States military recognized the importance of motion pictures: Films could reach out to potential recruits, train troops, and disseminate information to the folks at home and soldiers spread across the planet. The Army Signal Corps had long been responsible for making training films, and after the United States’ entry into the war, the Army Air Forces got into motion pictures as well. In 1942, Gen. Hap Arnold commissioned studio head Jack Warner to establish the First Motion Picture Unit and contracted with Warner Bros. to produce Winning Your Wings, a film featuring Hollywood star and Army Air Force pilot Lt. James Stewart. Winning Your Wings is credited with inspiring 100,000 young men to enlist in the US Army Air Forces. The First Motion Picture Unit produced hundreds of films between 1942 and 1945.

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First Motion Picture Unit: Army Air Forces

Motion pictures were also vital to disseminating information about what was occurring throughout various fronts in the war and to inform the troops about what was going on at home. Newsreels produced by the military efficiently distributed information to members of the armed services. Subjects ranged from lighter topics, such as training war dogs, and training high schoolers to work in industry to bolster the war effort, to the way blood donations made their way to the front. Some of the footage in these digests is every bit as harrowing as some of the scenes in Fury as can be seen in this clip from the offensive on Tarawa. And, unlike in Hollywood, there are no sound effects, stunt doubles, or extras.

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 Army-Navy Screen Magazine #21 

At the same time, the Office of War Information ensured a steady stream of official films hit screens across the country. The OWI partnered with the Hollywood-based War Activities Committee for National Defense (run by George Schaefer, the former head of RKO Studios) to distribute films such as The Battle of Midway (1942) and With the Marines at Tarawa (1944)The Battle of Midway was the first time the American public saw troops engaging in battle in color and With the Marines at Tarawa was the first time audiences saw dead US Marines in color.

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The Battle of Midway

The legacies of the events of WWII live on because these moving images exist. As the veterans of WWII become fewer in number these reels will live on to tell the story of that era as only moving images can. While films like Fury are able to capture the sense of what it was like to live and die in a war the films in the collection at NARA can document the reality of life and death in a war zone.



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

Ten months after the D-Day invasion, Allied forces were sweeping through western Europe. Germany in April 1945 is often depicted as the Allies capturing scattered Axis soldiers and liberating citizens from the clutches of the Third Reich. Small offensives, cutting supply lines, and rounding up fractured German units was far from the reality of the situation, however. American troops encountered some of the most tenacious and ruthless fighting of the war and faced the cruelest and vilest of human nature as they liberated concentration camps throughout the region.

The culmination of the war in Europe brought with it the most mechanized force the planet had ever seen with the sheer firepower of the United States military. In spite of Allied superiority in weaponry, divisions often had to fight in close quarters with hand-to-hand combat. Limited maneuverability in small German towns resulted in heavy losses. The men fighting in Germany were either battle-hardened or green recruits, but all of them were sleepless and racing to end the war at breakneck speed. The new feature film, Fury, depicts the last month of the war in these startlingly real terms.

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Allied tanks in the German city of Koblenz. (Still from Universal News)

Fury’s fictionalized account of events at the end of the war focus on a small platoon within the 2nd Armored Division. The 2nd Armored Division was created in July 1940 under the command of then Colonel George S. Patton. Parts of the division were among the first U.S. military armored divisions serving in North Africa when they landed at Casablanca on November 8, 1942. After nine months the division moved on to Sicily in July of 1943. On June 9, 1944, the 2nd Armored Division landed on Omaha Beach in the invasion of the Normandy. There the division known as “Hell on Wheels” fought the Germans near Avranches and then crossed through France as part of the Third Army before reaching Germany in September 1944. The 2nd Armored Division was the first to reach the Elbe River in mid-April 1945, which is where the Fury story begins.

During their period of service in World War II, the 2nd Armored Division took 76,963 prisoners of war, liberated tens of thousands of Allied POWs, and destroyed or captured thousands of enemy tanks, including Panzers and Tigers. Between 1942 and 1945, the 2nd Armored Division lost 1,160 men in battle.

To get a sense of what the men of the Armored Divisions experienced as they fought to end the war, we can look to the Universal Newsreel Collection and see the stories the public was shown at the time. While there may not be specific footage of the 2nd Armored Division, these Universal News stories feature tank warfare in Germany during April 1945.

The Sherman Crab (aka Sherman M4 with Mine Flail) clears mines. Sherman tanks and infantry take Koblenz. [From 3:10 to 5:00]
Release date: April 5, 1945

 

Tank warfare, taking German POWs, and rocket attacks by The Third Army. [From 3:57 to 5:36]
Release date: April 9, 1945

 

Allied troops taking cities in West Germany, trying to keep the peace in conquered cities, and liberating work camps. [From 2:14 to 5:32]
Release date: April 23, 1945

The tank battles in Fury feature face-offs between the M4 Sherman and German Tiger tanks. Tank warfare was an integral part of the war in Europe and mechanization for the war effort occurred rapidly. At the start of the war, U.S. forces had only a handful of tanks in use even though light tanks had been in production since 1940. Medium M2 and M3 tanks, among others, soon went into production, first to supply to Britain, and later for use by the U.S. Army.

The new M4 Sherman rolled off the line in 1942 and was first employed in North Africa. Until the German Panzers up-gunned to 75mm L/48s in mid-1944, the M4 Sherman was clearly superior. New tanks introduced by Germany were a significant threat: the Panther and Tiger tanks had stronger armor and a longer firing range with more penetrating power and higher accuracy. The Shermans were not back on equal footing with German tanks until 76mm guns were added in December of 1944. While the Shermans were not as well armored as the German tanks they were much easier to maneuver and more adaptable so that tanks could be fitted with bulldozer blades (Sherman Dozer), rocket launchers (T34 Calliope), flame throwers (M4A3R3 Flame), and mine flails (Sherman Crab).

What is captured by Fury, that isn’t included in the Universal Newsreels is how horrific the conditions were that men faced at the end of the war. The Volkssturm protecting the towns in Germany, mainly made up of older men and Hitler Youth, were relentless and fanatical in their attempt to hold out against The Third Army. While the Allies won the day in the long run, they paid dearly for the honor in men, minds, and morale.

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