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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.

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.

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.



On July 15th, 1931, legendary tennis players Helen Wills and Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman competed against Hilda and Helen Boehm in the first round of the National Doubles Championship at Longwood Cricket Club in Brookline, Massachusetts. The 17-year-old Boehm twins were junior doubles champions in 1931. Between 1922 and 1938, Helen Wills won 19 of the 24 Grand Slam tournaments she entered (she was runner-up three times and withdrew twice). Wills was dubbed “Little Miss Poker Face” by the press because she showed so little emotion during matches. Her partner, Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman was the dominant women’s tennis player in the United States in the 1910s, having won her first Grand Slam title in 1909. Wightman was vastly influential in the sport, mentoring up and coming players and creating the Wightman Cup, an annual tournament that pitted Great Britain against the United States. The two women partnered to win gold at the 1924 Olympics, the last time the sport made an official appearance until the 1988 games.

From the release sheet:

Brookline, Mass.- “Poker Face” re-enters the game! – Helen Wills Moody teams with Mrs. Wightman to beat Boehm twins, 6-2, 6-1.

Wills-1

Helen Wills and Hazel Wightman take on junior champions Hilda and Helen Boehm in a 1931 doubles tournament.

You may view the complete newsreel, including stories about a deer that eats cigarettes, an uptick in business at a toy factory in Ohio, a transatlantic flight to call attention to the plight of Hungary, and others, 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.



In July of 1939, Howard Hughes purchased the first Boeing 307 Stratoliner. Because of the plane’s pressurized cabin, the plane could fly at altitudes over 20,000 feet, allowing it to avoid rough weather. In this clip from Universal News, we see the multi-millionaire taking his new toy for a test drive. Hughes had hoped to use the Stratoliner to break his own round-the-world flight record, but Germany’s invasion of Poland in September made the attempt unsafe and the flight was cancelled. Boeing produced ten Stratoliners; the last remaining example is on display at the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, near Washington, D.C.

From the release sheet:

GLOBE FLIER TRIES STRATOPLANE, SEATTLE, WASH.– Howard Hughes, millionaire sportsman pilot who set a new “Round-the-World record last year, takes off in a new giant Stratoliner on a test flight believed to herald a new globe-circling venture.

Stratoliner2

Howard Hughes prepares to fly his customized Boeing 307 Stratoliner for the first time.

You may view the complete newsreel, including stories about a flash flood in Kentucky, a royal wedding in Greece, pilot’s training in California, Girl Scout Mariners embarking on a one-week cruise, a lion-taming class in New Jersey, and others here. Note: the soundtrack for this newsreel 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.



Decades after the Roswell Incident people are still fascinated by it. Last October we wrote about National Archives moving image holdings relating to Project Blue Book and unidentified flying objects (UFOs).

In addition to Project Blue Book we also have records relating to the alleged UFO crash in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. The U.S. Air Force (USAF) conducted several interviews in the early 1990s as well as researching textual records during the investigation into the crash, culminating in the publication of The Roswell Report: Fact vs. Fiction in the New Mexico Desert in 1995.

In 1997 the Air Force released a follow-up report titled The Roswell Report: Case Closed. Both reports are available in the series Moving Images Relating to “The Roswell Reports” Source Data Research Files, 1946 – 1996 (Local Identifier: 341-ROSWELL / National Archives Identifier: 566658). The Air Force also produced the video Roswell Reports in support of the textual report. This video provides great background information on the Roswell incident and subsequent investigation.

Roswell Reports (Local Identifier: 341-ROSWELL-1 / National Archives Identifier: 2788598)

We also have audio interviews with USAF personnel and alleged witnesses to a UFO crash in the series Sound Recordings Relating to “The Roswell Reports”, 1991 – 1996 (Local Identifier: 341-ROSWELLa / National Archives Identifier: 566843). The USAF interviewees discuss the dropping of anthropomorphic, or crash test, dummies from high altitude balloons to study freefall characteristics and improve parachute design.

One of the interviews is with Colonel Dan Fulgham, who was in a May 1959 parachute accident with Colonel Joseph Kittinger, Jr. and Colonel William Kaufman in New Mexico. The accident resulted in serious swelling of Fulgham’s head and discoloration of his face. Some people believe that the stories of the 1947 Roswell Incident and the injured men from the 1959 accident got confused and the two stories turned into the one that we hear today. You can hear about the accident in the two recordings below.

Interview with Col. David D. Fulgham, USAF (Ret.), May 26, 1995 (Local Identifier: 341-ROSWELLa-6)

Images of Fulgham’s injuries can be seen in Roswell Reports (above).

Statement of Witness and Transcript  341-ROSWELLa-6

 

Interview with Col. Joseph W. Kittinger, Jr., USAF (Ret.), June 23, 1995 (Local Identifier: 341-ROSWELLa-11)

Statement of Witness and Transcript  341-ROSWELLa-11

 

You can check out more interviews on YouTube.

Gerald Anderson Interview (Local Identifier: 341-ROSWELL-16 / National Archives Identifier: 2788892)

 

W. Glenn Dennis Interview (Local Identifier: 341-ROSWELL-14 / National Archives Identifier: 2788762)

 

Interviews with Jed Roberts, Marilyn Strickland & Alice Knight (Local Identifier: 341-ROSWELL-17 / National Archives Identifier: 2788893)



In 1939, the Fourth of July coincided with Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day at Yankee Stadium. A day usually reserved for parades and fireworks was transformed into one of the most solemn, heart-wrenching, and inspiring moments in the history of sports. It was here, before 62,000 fans, that Gehrig proclaimed he was the “Luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

Just a few months before Gehrig’s speech, the Yankees opened their season against the Boston Red Sox. Between the two teams, there were 11 future Hall of Famers and many other notable all-stars. The reliable Gehrig manned first base as he had done for over two thousand consecutive games. The series also marked the debut of a young ballplayer named Ted Williams. It was the only time Williams and Gehrig would face one another. Newsreel cameras were there to capture the event:

Opening Day, April 20, 1939.  Universal Newsreels: UN-11-765

Opening Day program from the Universal News Production Files: UN-11-765.  Pages 6 and 7 show the lineups for the two teams. (To navigate, click the arrows to advance through the program. Click on the image to open a new window with a larger image.)

After a few games into the season, Gehrig’s performance had noticeably declined. On May 2, Gehrig took himself out of the lineup for the first time in 2,130 consecutive games. Unbeknownst to him, he would never play again. Once again, newsreels were there to capture the moment:

Universal News UN-11-768.

The script from the production files reads: “In spring training camp, Lou Gehrig felt sure he could benefit the Yankee lineup, but the veteran first baseman voluntarily benched himself in Detroit before the Yankee-Tigers game! Thus ends a phenomenal series of over two thousand straight games. But he hopes to comeback in warmer weather. We hope he does!

Soon after Gehrig’s streak came to an end, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neurodegenerative disease he is synonymous with to this day.  After hearing the news, the Yankee clubhouse made arrangements to honor their longtime all-star.

On July 4, 1939, the Yankees played a double header against the Washington Senators. Between the two games, players, coaches, and other notable figures came out to shower Gehrig with gifts and kind words.  The Yankees also began a new baseball tradition as they retired Gehrig’s number 4 uniform.

Gehrig almost did not speak.  As the ceremony came to an end and the microphones were being hauled away, the “Iron Horse” decided to say a few words. As Gehrig fought away tears, he made one of the most iconic speeches of all time. Newsreel cameras were on the scene:

Universal News: UN-11-786

It seems appropriate that Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day fell on Independence Day. In his famous Declaration, Thomas Jefferson ascribed that “All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Despite his grim diagnosis and tragic decline, Gehrig embraced Jefferson’s unalienable rights. As he famously said, “I may have gotten a bad break, but I have an awful lot to live for.”

This Fourth of July marks the 238th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day. Both reflect the essence of what it means to be an American. 

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