The History of Film Archives is as interesting as the contents of each individual repository. The Library of Congress Motion Picture Division was driven by a fortuitous series of events which led to its development. By locating material originally meant to be copyright deposit records, the Library found itself in the possession of a good segment of film history from 1894-1912. Copyright clerk Howard Walls who is credited with this discovery of what has become known at the Library’s “Paper Print Collection” was put in touch with pioneering cinematographer Carl Louis Gregory (illustrated) in 1943, who had actually produced some of the paper prints he was asked to copy back to celluloid. At the time Gregory was motion picture engineer for the U.S. National Archives. Gregory had developed an optical printer for shrunken and damaged and he modified it in order to reprint this delicate material.
The National Archives Motion Picture Division began in the mid-1930s and was the first U.S. Government institution to have as part of its mandate, “the Preservation of Motion Picture Film”. Members of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers Preservation Committee met several times in order to assist the National Archives in developing standards for the handling and care of motion picture film. As a matter of fact, three of the pioneering members of the Archives Motion Picture Division (John G. Bradley, Herford T. Cowling and Carl Louis Gregory) were all members of this S.M.P.E Preservation Committee.
It helps remind us that many events have conspired for and against preservation of these historic images. The foresight of many pioneers have allowed us the opportunity to revisit our film heritage.