Aliens at the Archives

On December 30, 1947, the United States Air Force (USAF) began the process of collecting and evaluating all facts related to flying saucers and other types of unidentified flying objects (UFOs). Between 1947 and 1969, 12,618 sightings were reported to the USAF program titled Project Blue Book, headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.


(Local Identifier:341-PBB-400) “Keesler AFB, Mississippi Film, 3/7/1954”

Scientists and investigators from federal agencies and universities assisted the Air Force with the subsequent investigations. Project Blue Book grouped these sightings into three categories: identified, insufficient data, and unidentified. According to the findings, the majority of the identified sightings usually relate to military and private aircraft, weather balloons, and satellites. A large number of birds, reflections, spotlights, and hoaxes also became common solutions for the identifiable cases.


(Local Identifier: 341-PBB-473) “Alamogordo, New Mexico Film, 10/16/1957”

The report lists unidentifiable occurrences as the least frequent result of a UFO investigation given that the classification means there is no logical explanation for the UFO sighting. Many of the reported sightings are, according the Air Force, explicable by some sort of scientific means.


(Local Identifier: 341-PBB-482) “Montville, Ohio Film, 11/6/1957”

According to Dr. J. Allen Hynek, a scientific advisor to the Air Force and a professor of Astronomy at Northwestern University, the insufficient data category contained the most problematic sightings. Often a number of these sightings contained all of the required evidence involving location, time, and weather, among others, but the data was so poor that it proved impossible for investigators to conclude any possible logical explanation.


(Local Identifier: 341-PBB-523) “Coburn, Virginia Film February – April, 1959”

When submitting reports to the USAF, individuals often included supplemental photographic prints and negatives that, from their perspective, proved the accuracy of these sightings. The Air Force made copies of the prints and negatives before returning the originals back to the observers, and these copies provided additional information used in the investigative process. These photographs now make up the series 341-PBB “Project “BLUE BOOK””.


(Local Identifier: 341-PBB-620) “Naha, Okinawa Film October 6-7, 1962”

While several of these photographs do provide clear images of the sky and objects, many of the images used as evidence resemble those seen below in the Australia Life Photos from March 1966.


(Local Identifier: 341-PBB-715) “Australia Life Photos, 3/1/1966”

At the conclusion of the report, the USAF determined that no UFO reported posed a threat to national security after evaluation. Additionally, the Air Force determined that none of the unidentified sightings highlighted any technological developments that are not possible with present scientific knowledge and these sightings did not include substantial proof of extraterrestrial vehicles visiting Earth. Even though they did not discover any extraterrestrial elements in the reported sightings, the USAF did not deny the possibility of life on other planets and the Project Blue Book Information Office encourages individuals with a knowledge of extraterrestrial life to submit their claims and evidence for review.

For more information about Project Blue Book holdings across NARA, visit the Project BLUE BOOK – Unidentified Flying Objects formation page.

Interested in more Project Blue Book Special Media offerings? Check out these previous posts about motion picture records related to the project.

Project Blue Book: Home Movies in UFO Reports

Project Blue Book: Spotting UFOs in the Film Record

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Commemorating the Doolittle Raid

Today, April 18, marks the 75th Anniversary of the Doolittle Raid. The mission, named for its organizer and leader James “Jimmy” Doolittle, caused minor damage to its targets, but accomplished a great deal by boosting the morale of Americans still affected by the attack at Pearl Harbor and early Japanese victories.


Still taken from United News newsreel of the Doolittle Raiders before their mission.

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Film Preservation 101: Scratch Hazards and Fixes

For those working with archival films, encountering film scratches is just part of the job.

At the National Archives we care for films that range from pristine camera negatives with not a scratch to be seen, all the way to beat-up projection prints that look like they were rubbed with sandpaper. Scratches can be black or white, depending on whether they are on the base (the plastic carrier) or emulsion side of the film, and whether the film is an original or copy. Color film sometimes contains colored scratches.

Most often a film is scratched when it is handled or projected. A dirty projector gate can permanently gouge a film during a single playback.

And then there’s this:

This still from item 342-USAF-42644 has a prominent emulsion scratch caused by the camera used to shoot the film. You can see a pile of emulsion shavings in the upper left corner of the screen.

This still from item 342-USAF-42644 has a prominent emulsion scratch caused by the camera used to shoot the film. You can see a pile of emulsion shavings in the upper left corner of the screen.

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Spotlight: “Our Wings of Victory,” the Manufacture of Military Aeroplanes During WWI

 “To fill the skies of France with fighting aircraft–that was America’s tremendous task. What we did and what we have accomplished of that task is here fully revealed for the first time” reads an intertitle slate from the film Our Wings of Victory which highlights the production of American-made aircraft during World War I.

World War I was the first major conflict to involve aircraft on a large scale. Images of Germany’s reconnaissance Zeppelins, tethered observation balloons, and biplanes being flown by the likes of Manfred von Richthofen – the Red Baron are iconic images of WWI aircraft.

Films like Manufacture of Military Aeroplanes, 1917-1918, also titled, Our Wings of Victory, created by the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, highlight the airplane production process, from raw lumber to final product.

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Accessing World War I Photos in the Digital Age

April 6 marks the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War I, as well as the culmination of a massive digitization project from the National Archives. Through a generous donation made by an anonymous donor, the National Archives was able to digitize over 110,000 photographs and nearly 300 reels of film related to the “Great War.”

Original Caption: That wonderful sight to so many American soldiers, The Statue of Liberty, as it greeted the 2nd Division as it arrived at New York. August 8, 1919. Local Identifier: 165-WW-139A-1

The vast majority of photographs selected for digitization came from two series: the American Unofficial Collection of World War I Photographs (165-WW) and the Photographs of American Military Activities (111-SC).* Both series of photographs document American activity on the home front and on the battlefield during the war years.

The “American Unofficial Collection of World War I Photographs” (165-WW) was originally maintained by the Committee on Public Information (CPI).  During WWI, the CPI collected photographs from private photographers and federal agencies in order to sway public opinion in favor of the war.  Following the war, the CPI disbanded and the War Department’s Historical Branch obtained custody of the photographs.  The War Department later transferred these photos, among others, to the National Archives in the early 1940s. Prior to this digitization project, these images were only available to researchers via microfiche in the Still Photos research room.

The “Photographs of American Military Activities” (111-SC) were primarily taken or collected by the Army Signal Corps.  Although this digitization project has focused on images related to World War I, the Army Signal Corps series includes nearly 1 million images covering everything from the French and Indian War through Vietnam.   Photographs from this series have long been some of the most often requested and widely disseminated images in our holdings.

By digitizing these records, citizens all over the world can now access films and photos related to WWI without traveling to the National Archives research room.  Additionally, we hope that enhanced metadata will allow researchers to search for records in innovative ways, and make new connections that were not possible in the traditional analog-world.  Scanning these records will also limit the amount that the original photographs are handled, ensuring their preservation for years to come.**

In addition to the images in this blog, the Unwritten Record has highlighted many of these re-discovered gems over the past year. Staff has continually stumbled upon weirdinspiring, and somber images of American life a century ago.  The National Archives has gathered these photographs, as well as many other records, educational programs, and articles in a recently created, World War I Portal.


*In addition to the two series described above, this digitization project also included two smaller series related to WWI.  They are: German Military Activities and Personnel, 1917-1918 (165-GB), and British Photographs of WWI, 1914-1918 (165-BO), which are now available in the National Archives Catalog.

**Access to the originals may still be granted in special circumstances.

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How to Research: Photographs Relating to World War II Army Units

This post was co-authored with Kaitlyn Crain Enriquez.

In this four part series, the Still Picture Branch will be introducing various methods that can be used while researching photographs of military units during World War II. The first part will focus specifically on Army photographs, but we will also cover Air Force, Navy, and Marine research in subsequent blog posts. We hope that researchers find this information helpful in the course of their own work.

Researchers who are looking for images relating to a single United States Army unit will find that a multi-faceted search returns the best results. The more a researcher knows about a unit, the more success he or she will have in searching NARA’s holdings. For effective research using Army photographs maintained by NARA’s Still Picture Branch, the most pertinent information to have includes:

  • Unit lineage
  • Campaign locations
  • Major battles in which the unit received decorations and honors
  • Names of historically significant personalities that were connected to the unit

Knowing where a unit was during a particular point in the war, or under what division(s) it was attached can widen the search and return those photographic gems that might be missed in a more narrow search. The Department of the Army Lineage and Honors  publications can be a useful first step in acquiring helpful information about an army unit. If a researcher is having trouble locating a copy of the army unit lineage, the Still Picture Branch holds a comprehensive collection that can be used for researcher reference.

To illustrate the search process, we have chosen to use the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment as an example. We first reviewed photographs that were indexed under the 505th Infantry Regiment and we were able to locate a variety of images. However, in order to enhance and broaden our research, we reviewed the army unit lineage (pictured below):

505th Lineage

505th Decorations

We can see that as of 1943, the Regiment was added as an organic element of the 82nd Airborne Division. We also find the locations that the 505th campaigned during the war, as well as what decorations the unit received. These various pieces of information are all valuable clues that guide well-rounded research using the photographic records here at NARA.

With this information on hand, it is now possible to widen our search in a number of ways. For example, knowing that the 505th Infantry Regiment was part of the 82nd means that we should search through images the were indexed under the 82nd Airborne Division, in addition to the images that were indexed under the 505th Infantry Regiment. After searching for photographs of the 82nd Airborne, we were able to locate additional photographs of the 505th Infantry.

In addition, the lineage states that the 505th Inf. Reg. campaigned in Sicily, Naples, Normandy, Rhineland, and Ardennes. With that information, we then searched for photographs indexed under the listed locations, which led us to additional photographs of the 505th.


Series used to research and retrieve World War II unit photographs:



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Youth Visits Our Nation’s Capital: A Glimpse of Spring 1939 in Washington, D.C.

Last July, while completing a training rotation in the Motion Picture Preservation Lab, I was tasked with inspecting the condition of film. Inspections are a basic operation the lab performs to ensure film holdings are properly handled and maintained. After spending most of my time with black and white film, I was excited when asked to inspect color footage.  A shot of Mount Vernon immediately caught my attention followed by the Washington Monument surrounded by cherry blossoms. I wanted to know more about the film, its subject matter and purpose. So, making note of the film’s identifying number, I set out to locate its production file.

FullSizeRenderWashington Monument and Cherry Blossoms, seen in frames of motion picture film through a film loupe

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Shooting World War I: The History of the Army Signal Corps Cameramen, 1917-1918

For the past two years, the National Archives Motion Picture Preservation Lab has been digitizing a series of Army Signal Corps films as part of a larger project to commemorate the centennial of World War I. Meanwhile, technicians from the Still Pictures Branch and the Digitization Division have scanned tens of thousands of Signal Corps photographs from World War I. Along the way, technician P.T. Corrigan, who performs quality control on the scanned images, forwarded photos of the cameramen to Lab staff, knowing that we love to see records of the people who shot the motion picture films we work with every day.

The following images are from a group of 22 photos documenting the Signal Corps School of Photography at Columbia University in New York. These photos, along with the rest of the series American Unofficial Collection of World War I Photographs, 1917-1918, are available in our online catalog.

I recently had a look at the finding aid for the Signal Corps’ “Historical Series” and found a short history of the World War I Signal Corps photographers. The history and finding aid were written by archivist K. Jack Bauer in 1957. Bauer later became a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and wrote many books, including histories of the Mexican War and a biography of Zachary Taylor.

The introduction to the finding aid contains a wealth of information about how the Signal Corps Photographic Section was established and how the unit operated. From Bauer’s finding aid:

“Before World War I, the Signal Corps had given relatively little attention to photography, and few officers or enlisted men had much training in that specialized field. On July 21, 1917, the Signal Corps was designated the bureau responsible for obtaining photographic coverage of American participation in World War I. The photographic coverage was ordered for propaganda, scientific, identification, and military reconnaissance purposes but primarily for the production of a pictorial history of the war.

During July 1917 the Photographic Section was established within the Signal Corps to control all photographic activities of the Army. Although initially short of trained men and cameras, the Photographic Section succeeded in building up a large and efficient organization before the Armistice.

A photographic officer accompanied General Pershing to Europe in order to study the methods and equipment of the photographic departments of the Allied Armies. On July 21, 1917, a laboratory was secured at St. Ouen in Paris for developing and printing motion and still pictures. This laboratory served until February 1918, when photographic operations were transferred to larger quarters in Vincennes.

Beginning with 25 men in August 1917, the Photographic Section attached to the AEF [American Expeditionary Forces] reached a strength of 92 officers and 498 men in November 1918. A photographic unit consisting of one motion-picture cameraman and one still-picture photographer, with assistants, was assigned to each division in addition to other units attached to higher organizations, the Services of Supply, the sea transport service, and the various public welfare organizations like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. Cameramen in the AEF shot 589,197 feet of film, while film units in the United States filmed 277,173 feet of domestic scenes. In addition, the Signal Corps produced a 62,000 foot training film series called “Training of the Soldier” and a 16,000 foot aviation training film entitled “Flightwings.”

Bauer also included a detailed account of how scenes shot by the cameramen were identified, tracked, and described. Ultimately, the film scenes were re-edited to create the “Historical Series” that we know today as 111-H. Until recently, finding a particular scene was a complicated task that required two “crosswalks” to obtain the film’s item number (archivist Richard Green described this process in the 2013 blog post “Finding a Finding Aid”). However, technicians in the motion picture unit have recently completed scanning and uploading text-searchable images of the Signal Corps’ production files for the 111-H series, so all of the films are easily searchable using the National Archives’ online catalog!

Searching for photos of the Akeley camera used by the Signal Corps photographers is what led me to discover this wonderful document, “Instructions for Signal Corps Photographers,” attached to the production file for 111-H-1199. In addition to general advice about taking close-ups and providing detailed descriptions, the guide has more specific instructions, such as warning that “in the moist climate of France,” Xback, a film stock with an anti-static coating, “sticks on the pressure plate and particles may get on the aperture plate causing scratches.” The document also includes details about the proper size of a film loop in the Akeley camera, and how to shoot film from airplanes.

111-h-1199-012-sFinally, below are a few photos from the series technicians are currently scanning. Doubtless, as we continue to scan the films and photographs of World War I, we will uncover more wonderful tidbits of the history of the Signal Corps cameramen. I look forward to finding it all!

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Spotlight: Women Doing Awesome Things

The first presidential statement observing women’s history was issued by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, who declared March 2-8 as National Women’s History Week. Carter’s official acknowledgment of Women’s History Week was monumental given that it grew out of one local celebration in Santa Rosa, California. The following year, Public Law No. 97-28 was passed, which authorized and requested the President to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982 as Women’s History Week. By 1987, a group named the National Women’s History Project successfully petitioned Congress to designate the entire month of March as “Women’s History Month.” Since then, as a celebration of the contributions that women have made to the United States, each president has issued an annual proclamation declaring March as Women’s History Month.

In honor and celebration of Women’s History Month, as well as International Women’s Day (March 8th), the Still Picture Branch presents: Women Doing Awesome Things.

Record Group 237, Series G (237-G): Records of the Federal Aviation Administration; General Photograph File.

237-G-141-035 (Ruth Law)

Ruth Law Oliver in a Headless Curtiss. In 1916, Ruth Law had flown further than anyone in the United States. Law was also the first woman to fly at night and in 1919 she had the honor of carrying the first official air mail to the Philippine Islands. No date. (Local ID: 237-G-141-035)

Record Group 165, Series WW (165-WW): Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs; American Unofficial Collection of World War I Photographs, 1917 – 1918. These images have been digitized and are available in the NARA catalog.

Record Group 4, Series G (4-G): Records of the U.S. Food Administration, Photographs of Food Conservation Activities, 1917 – 1919

Record Group 16, Series G (16-G): Records of the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture; Historical File of the Office of Information, Department of Agriculture, 1900 – 1959

Record Group 171, Series OCD (171-OCD): Records of the Office of Civilian Defense; Defense Practices of the Office of Civil Defense, 1942 – 1943

Record Group 174, Series G (174-G): General Records of the Department of Labor; Photographic Prints of Occupations, Labor Activities, and Personalities, 1940 – 1970

Record Group 65, Series QT (65-QT)Records of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; Photographs Related to the FBI Academy, Quantico, Virginia, ca. 1950 – ca. 1980

Record Group 255, Series GRC (255-GRC): Records of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; Photographs Relating to Agency Activities, Facilities and Personnel, 1973 – 2013. This series is digitized and available in the NARA online catalog.

Record Group 330, Series CFD (330-CFD): Records of the Office of the Secretary of Defense; Combined Military Service Digital Photographic Files, 1982 – 2007.  This series is digitized and available in the NARA online catalog.

Check out some of our previous blog posts dedicated to women’s history!

The Women of World War I in Photographs

The Women of World War I in Motion

The Indian School for Practical Nursing

Hidden Women: The Art of WWI Camouflage (Photos)

Sally Ride and the Women of NASA

Cracking the Glass Ceiling: Margaret Chase Smith and Shirley Chisholm

Spotlight on Veterans: Navy Women in Parachute Rigger Training

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Happy 145th Birthday, Yellowstone National Park!

This blog post was co-authored by Aaron Arthur

On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act into law. This legislation, officially named “An Act to Set Apart a Certain Tract of Land Lying Near the Head-Waters of the Yellowstone River as a Public Park,” described 3,472 square miles of wilderness in the Montana and Wyoming territories which would be “dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground  for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” The 1872 legislation also placed Yellowstone under the control of the Secretary of the Interior, who was expected to “make and publish such rules and regulations as he may deem necessary…such regulations shall provide for the preservation, from injury or spoliation, of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities, or wonders within said park, and their retention in their natural condition.” With President Grant’s signature, the Federal Government simultaneously established the first national park, as well as introduced the idea of the government playing a role in preserving our natural resources.

In recognition of Yellowstone’s 145th Birthday, the Still Picture Branch has gathered photographs that document Yellowstone’s beautiful landscape and the environment. There are over 1000 images of Yellowstone available in our catalog, which you may browse through by clicking here!

Record Group 57, HS Series (57-HS): Hayden Survey, William H. Jackson, Photographs, 1869 – 1878

On June 1, 1871, Ferdinand V. Hayden began an exploratory survey of parts of the American West that included the land that is now known as Yellowstone National Park. The expedition consisted of 32 men, including the young photographer William Henry Jackson, whose stunning photos are among the earliest and most celebrated images of Yellowstone. This series of images has been digitized and is available in our online catalog.

Record Group 79, AA Series (79-AA): Ansel Adams Photographs of National Parks and Monuments, 1941 – 1942

Legendary American photographer Ansel Adams took some wonderful photographs of Yellowstone National Park in 1941-1942. The photographs were initially intended to be a part of a Department of the Interior project to commission mural sized images for its Washington, D.C. headquarters. The project was abandoned indefinitely at the start of World War II; fortunately, the images captured by Adams remain as a testament to the beauty of one of our greatest national parks. This series of photographs has been digitized and is available in the NARA catalog.

Record Group 377, C Series (377-C): Photographs from the Photographic Catalog, ca. 1962 – ca. 1969

The United States Travel Service Photographic Catalog was maintained during the 1960’s and was intended to be used for advertisements that promoted tourism.  As a result of the collection, there are many great photos within the series highlighting the wonders of Yellowstone National Park.

Record Group 412, EPD Series (412-EPD): Digital Photographs Relating to the Environment, ca. 1996 – ca. 2003

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has created and maintained images for use in agency publications, web pages, reports and presentations. As such, the EPA has created many photographic documents of Yellowstone National Park. Their digital series of photos, 412-EPD, is available online and includes photographs of Yellowstone, as well as photographs of other environmental marvels.

Record Group 406, NSB Series (406-NSB): Digital Photographs Relating to America’s Byways, ca. 1995 – ca. 2013

The National Scenic Byways Program (NSBP) accumulated and maintained these images as a visual record of roads designated as National Scenic Byways or All-American Roads by the United States Department of Transportation based on archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic qualities. These photos are available in the NARA catalog


Interested in learning more about Yellowstone records at the National Archives? Check out our past blog posts!

Kodacolor Decoded: Early Color Footage of Yellowstone National Park

An Update on Kodacolor Decoded

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