Today’s post is written by Larry Shockley, Archives Specialist in NARA’s Office of Innovation.
One of the more rewarding aspects of working for an institution such as the National Archives is our ability to serve archival colleagues at state and local levels. A recent trip to the West Virginia Archives and History provided one such opportunity. While I was conducting preliminary research for an upcoming DOCUMERICA inspired project titled DocuWestVirginia, the Audiovisual Archivist for the West Virginia Archives; Dick Fauss asked me if the National Archives had a better quality version of a rare film that was released in 1940 by the National Youth Administration (NYA).
The National Youth Administration (NYA)
Established by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1935 and later transferred to the Federal Security Agency (FSA) in 1939, the NYA provided part-time work for needy students and training programs for unemployed youth. In 1939, film makers visited an Ordnance Plant in South Charleston, West Virginia. There were fifteen shop units located in the facility and the film covered the creation of airplane parts, the building of dormitories, the making Army cots, sheet metal work, and Morse Code training.
Location and Processing
Although the West Virginia Archives had the film in storage, it was just a low quality copy. After discussing the issue with NARA’s Motion Picture staff, they located the film, titled “South Charleston, West Virginia,” under Record Group 119, Records of the National Youth Administration, 1934 – 1945. A processing request was sent to preservation specialist Audrey Amidon, who was able to work her magic and create a fresh digital copy of the film (National Archives Identifier/ Local Identifier: 119.8) .
State Level Colleague
Upon viewing the updated version of the film, Richard Fauss replied:
“The NARA transfer is a great improvement over what we had. We really appreciated you making the transfer happen. The scenes are now so clear that it seems like I am seeing some of them for the first time. There are really some fantastic scenes in this film.”
City Level Colleague
Appreciation for NARA’s Motion Picture staff and Audrey’s work was not limited to the West Virginia State Archives. While conducting background research on the former Ordnance Plant I stumbled upon an online exhibit titled Century Strong: U.S. Naval Ordnance Plant. South Charleston, WV. Created by employees of the South Charleston Interpretive Center, Century Strong was an exhibit that featured “hundreds of never-before-published prints from deep in the National Archives.”
Taking for granted that the folks who created this exhibit would be interested in our recently upgraded film I contacted Kyle Warmack who is the exhibit director of Century Strong and he replied:
“I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to send this our way at the Interpretive Center. Encountering the film at WV State Archives was dynamite already, and helped us confirm many of the activities and specifics of the NYA program at the South Charleston Naval Ordnance Plant–but this goes one step further.
With the improved quality of the transfer, we’re able to confirm architectural details and pinpoint more precisely where certain activities were taking place.”
The above testimonials are but a few examples of how NARA’s Motion Picture Branch and Motion Picture Preservation Lab continue to provide resources for our colleagues at the state and local levels and preserves history for future generations.