Audiovisual Collections: Digitizing Early DuPont TV Commercials from the 1950s

Monday, December 19, 2016

In last month's news, we reported on our progress in digitizing and preserving video tape here at the Hagley Library. This month we have news about another motion picture format that makes up a significant portion of our Audiovisual Collections.

While we don’t have an exact count on the number of 16mm film reels in the library, we estimate the number is close to 10,000. We are lucky to have the ideal storage environment for film— a large walk-in freezer where one would expect to find hanging slabs of meat. Ours is filled with historic film reels and photographic negatives. This cold storage space extends the lifespan of our film collections but work remains to be done in making them available to researchers.

In the last few years we have processed, re-housed, and moved a large number of films into our cold storage facility. You can find detailed information about our collections that contain film in our finding aids database.

Access remains an issue with all of our motion picture content as they require a player or a projector and, until they are digitized, can only be viewed on-site here at the library. Like our recent upgrade for digitizing video, we also upgraded our system for creating viewing copies of our 16mm film. While the digital copies of the films we are making are not preservation quality (film scanning, which does produce preservation grade digital copies, is handled off-site), this new in-house capability allows us to share film content with researchers via our website.

Our first film digitization project using our new system focused on early DuPont commercials originally broadcast in the 1950s during the Cavalcade of America program, a show sponsored by DuPont. These commercials represent the first DuPont TV commercials and some of the earliest advertising seen by television viewers when the medium was still in its infancy.

This month, we posted approximately twenty-five of these early DuPont TV ads in our digital archives. A few of our favorites are embedded below. Click here to view them all and additional content in the Hagley Digital Archives.

We will be posting additional films online as they are digitized. You can also follow us on social media where we will be highlighting new content via the Hagley Vault and the Library’s Twitter feed.

Kevin Martin is the Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Audiovisual Collections & Digital Initiatives at the Hagley Museum and Library.