Symphony in F: An Industrial Fantasia for the World of Tomorrow

Before the Super Bowl became the showcase for ambitious advertisements that would be seen and enjoyed by millions, we had the World’s Fair. At World’s Fairs, industry could show off its wares in increasingly elaborate displays. Symphony in F, part of the Ford Collection, fits into this category of advertainment.

Symphony in F uses glorious Technicolor and stop-motion animation to show how a car is made, from the harvest of lumber and other raw materials, to when the final product rolls off the assembly line. A musical score by Edwin E. Ludig, who also composed the score for Ford’s Rhapsody in Steel (made for the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair), accompanies Symphony in F.

The film was exhibited in the Ford Exposition Building at the 1940 season of the New York World’s Fair, as part of a program that included a fashion show that combined “the latest in fashions with the newest in motorcar design,” and A Thousand Times Neigh, a live-action ballet depicting the history of transportation. (Sadly, we do not have a complete film record of the ballet, but a snippet survives in the Ford film Scenes from the World’s Fair for 1940.) The animated portion of Symphony in F features one of the highlights of the Ford exhibit, a 152 ton turntable that used carved figures to demonstrate how 27 raw materials were harvested and turned into products to be used at the Ford plant. According to Scenes from the World’s Fair, the turntable was floated in 20,000 gallons of water.

Stills from Scenes from the New York World’s Fair for 1940. See the Ford Exposition Building starting at 3:48

The Ford Collection is chock-full of films that are well-shot and technically competent examples of early educational works and industrial process films. Symphony in F stands out as a rare example of the Ford Motor Company pursuing artistry to communicate an idea. When considered as a record of the World’s Fair, it also encapsulates the optimism of Twentieth Century progress that was the theme of these events.

For more films of the 1939 New York World’s Fair, see our blog post “World of Tomorrow.”

For more on the Ford Collection, see our blog post on the film Mirror of America, and Phillip W. Stewart’s article “Henry Ford: Movie Mogul?”

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World War I Combat Artists – Harry Townsend

Guest blogger Jan Hodges became interested in World War I combat art as a result of her involvement as a volunteer in a holdings maintenance project for Record Group 120, American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) documents at the National Archives at College Park. This article is the last posting in the series about World War I Art and Artists.


Local Identifier: 111-SC-86629: Mr. Harry Townsend, Artist, New York, commissioned captain in Engineering Reserve Corps, as official artist. April 1918.

Harry Townsend was a prolific sketcher, turning out dozens of drawings.  So much so that it was difficult to identify a theme that would do him justice and wrap up this series of posts on combat art for World War I.  However, one of Townsend’s sketches contrasts greatly with his other work.  In this drawing, an aviator is depicted in cartoon form, almost a caricature.  In many of his sketches soldiers are fully realized as he captured them going about the tasks of war.  The Great War was a dividing line between old and new warfare; the old map of Europe and the new. The contrasts are notable.


Local Identifier: 111-SC-20120: An American Aviator in his “Teddy Bear” Costume.

World War I was a catalyst for change, bringing change to war itself.  Chemical warfare in the form of poisonous gas was introduced in 1915; artillery capacity was increased; airplanes were used for reconnaissance and to drop bombs; the British developed and deployed tanks. The ability to manufacture weapons in the hundreds and ammunitions in the tens of thousands created war on an industrial scale.  It is almost impossible to comprehend the number of men who died, most from artillery barrages.  A jagged scar runs through the heart of France, along the lines of abandoned and forgotten trenches. On either side it is dotted with cemeteries and memorials. An entire generation of young men was lost.  Not all who survived were whole. Nervousness and shell shock were common afflictions.  Because there was no penicillin, many men lost either their lives or limbs to infection from battle wounds.


Local Identifier: 111-SC-31089: Sketch of One of Our Heavy Guns

The topography in Belgium and France changed. Small towns in France, such as Fliery, Lucy le Bocage and Fleury were blown out of existence.  Today they are little more than sign posts off the highway. In the case of Fleury the shattered walls of a church and a few scattered headstones are all that mark where the town once flourished.  Artillery leveled hills and mines gouged craters that still remain in France and Belgium.


Local Identifier: 111-SC-20133: A Quiet Sector in Lorraine, Opposite Domevre.

The geography of Europe changed as the map was redrawn after the war.  Gone were German and Austro-Hungarian Empires. Monarchies fell; the Tsar was murdered, the Kaiser ousted; the Ottoman Empire eliminated.

Few parts of the world were untouched by the Great War. This was no longer a matter of France and Germany shooting at each other. The British Empire pulled in soldiers from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and India into the conflict.  The Middle East was not spared. Conflict was brought to Arab countries.  With the end of the Ottoman Empire, the boundaries of countries in North Africa were redrawn and new ruling families installed by the victors of the Great War.  The United States which in 1914 had no intention of participating in the war, was eventually drawn in and emerged in 1918 as an international power.


Local Identifier: 111-SC-31085 Camouflaging a Light Tank under Observation in the Field

The war ground to a halt in November 1918, four years after men marched to meet the enemy in August with the promise and expectation that the war would be over before the fall; then by Christmas; then by next year; then by the following year. The war stopped, but didn’t end in 1918. It started again in 1939 and finally ended in 1945 when the Allies defeated Germany and Japan in World War II.


Local Identifier: 11SC 31082: “The Alert: The 147th Aero Squadron, American Expeditionary Forces

I’d like to acknowledge John D. Eisenhower and Byron Farwell for their comprehensive accounts of the battles of WWI and special thanks to Peter Krass for his in-depth examination of the artists and their experiences in WWI in Portrait of War.

The National Archives has custody of the original records of the combat divisions of the American Expeditionary Forces (Record Group 120) and the information contained in them is rich in detail.

More World War I Combat Art can be found online at the Smithsonian website:


National Archives. Still Pictures. Record Group 111-SC Army Signal Corps, WWI Combat Artists, by name.

National Archives. Textual Records, Record Group120, Records of the American Expeditionary Forces (World War 1), Entry 224, Correspondence Relating to the Eight Official Artists of the AEF, 1917-19

Eisenhower, John S. D. Yanks: The Epic Story of the American Army in World War I. Simon & Schuster. New York. 2001.

Farwell, Byron. Over There: The United States in the Great War, 1917-1918. W. W. Norton & Company. New York. 1999.

Krass, Peter. Portrait of War: The U. S. Army’s Combat Artists and the Doughboys Experience in World War I. John Wiley and Sons.  New York. 2006.


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The Indian School for Practical Nursing

By: Kelsey Noel

Several weeks ago, the Still Picture Branch received a particularly fascinating accession when a number of boxes arrived filled with records from the Indian Health Service. On any given day around here it is almost impossible not to encounter something fantastic and fascinating. Yet every now and then, something of particular interest stands out – and this time it was photos of the Indian School of Practical Nursing.

In 1935, the Kiowa Nurse Aide School was started in Lawton, Oklahoma. Although the first several decades of the 20th century saw the idea of nursing programs for Native American women begin to take root, the Kiowa School is seen as the Indian Service’s first substantive, structured approach to develop such a training program. Grown from an earlier (and quite successful) initiative to provide Native American women with a five-week program in nursing and health as applicable to households and communities, the Kiowa School consisted of nine-months of academic courses. Expanded to a twelve-month program in 1951, it became known as the Kiowa School of Practical Nursing that same year. Following the school’s 1955 move to Albuquerque, New Mexico, the name was changed once more to the Indian School of Practical Nursing. The school would maintain this moniker until it closed in 1974. The curriculum of the school was quite diverse – subjects included everything from dietetics to psychology. It was so successful that in 1952 a second Indian School for Practical Nursing was established in Alaska, but this school was not nearly as popular and closed after only nine years.

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Although the Kiowa School might be considered the most successful of early opportunities for Native Americans to train in the medical field, it was certainly not the only one. There were other nursing schools, such as the Sage Memorial Hospital School of Nursing which operated from 1930-1951.  The Indian Service also developed a scholarship program which enabled Native American high school graduates to study nursing at schools and hospitals which were not specifically dedicated to training Native Americans. Opportunities to study as dental technicians were also available, and by the 1970’s options were seriously diversifying – for example, the IHS School of Certified Laboratory Assistants and School of Radiologic Technology.

The Indian Health Service records received in this particular accession contain very little on other training opportunities, however, and indeed even records relating to the Indian School of Practical Nursing are limited. As is often the case, they provide only a tiny peek into a larger story. To make sense of such small glimpses it is usually necessary to investigate further – and sometimes the records are so fascinating it is just about impossible not to. So, if you are interested in researching this topic further, these records will be available upon request in the Still Pictures Branch very soon as part of The National Archives Record Group 513. Additional records can be found in the National Library of Medicine’s Indian Schools of Practical Nursing Collection.

Resources consulted for this blog include “American Indians At Risk,” (2014); “Native America in the Twentieth Century: An Encyclopedia,” (2014); “Caring and Curing: A History of the Indian Health Service,” (2009); “The Extraordinary Book of Native American Lists,” (2012), and “If You Knew the Conditions: A Chronical of the Indian Medical Service and American Indian Health Care, 1908-1955,” (2008).

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Film Preservation 201: Exploring A&B Rolls with “Jenny is a Good Thing”

Earlier we wrote about an Oscar-nominated film preserved at the National Archives (NARA) called Jenny is a Good Thing. It was produced in 1969 by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, but for a long time we didn’t know where the original film reels were stored. In 2007, NARA archivists rescued over 3,000 government films from a defunct film lab. Fortunately, Jenny is a Good Thing was among them!

The Jenny reels recovered included internegatives, the edited soundtrack, and the jackpot—a set of A&B Rolls.

At this point, you’re probably wondering: “what are A&B Rolls and why are they so important?” A&B Rolls are usually assembled from the film that was exposed in the camera, so they are the most original, and therefore highest-quality, picture rolls that exist for an edited motion picture. (They’re more complex than some of our other topics, so we’ve designated this post as Film Preservation 201.) For a one-reel film like Jenny is a Good Thing, we had a picture A-Roll, a picture B-Roll, and a Soundtrack. That’s three rolls of film, but a projector can only handle one! To make the final single reel of film, you load up a film printer and print the A-Roll onto a new piece of raw film stock. Then you rewind the raw stock and print the B-Roll onto it. Rewind again, and print the soundtrack. Process the film stock and then you finally have Jenny is A Good Thing, containing all of the picture and sound the director intended.


A&B Rolls on a film synchronizer.

If you look at the photo above, you can see a set of 16mm A&B Rolls being run through a film synchronizer. Where one reel contains picture, the other contains black leader. When copying the A-Roll, the black leader leaves space for the picture from the B-Roll, and vice versa. For straight cuts on 16mm film, this technique allows messy cement splices to be inserted on the black-leader side of the frame line so they are invisible in the viewing copy. You can also dissolve between the A-Roll and B-Roll by overlapping the picture (see above photo) and controlling the exposure. It is even possible to superimpose a title over an image by exposing the picture from the A-Roll and the words from the B-Roll.

All of these techniques are demonstrated in our A&B Roll demo video below:

A&B Rolls may be reproduced both photochemically and digitally (we did an HD scan for Jenny is a Good Thing), but before reformatting, the rolls of film must be inspected and any necessary preservation work performed. Jenny was a particularly perplexing case, because at some point pieces of black electrical tape were placed on both sides of every splice. Before it could be printed or scanned, every piece of tape had to be removed and the oily black adhesive washed away with a film cleaning solvent.

Jenny is a Good Thing did not escape completely unscathed. If you watch the film, you can see slight color fading at the cuts, caused by the tape. However, the improvement over this video made from a faded print is stunning.

You can learn more about A&B Rolls by watching this 5-minute video and more about Jenny is a Good Thing by clicking here.

Follow our Film Preservation 101 series to learn about basic film preservation topics! More advanced topics to come with Film Preservation 201 . . .

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Nutrition for Body and Mind: “Jenny is a Good Thing” and the Head Start Program

Oscar season is always a special time of year for the National Archives’ Motion Picture Preservation Lab. It’s a chance for us to reflect on the numerous Oscar-winning films we preserve for the American people and to remember our own brush with Oscars glory (2013 Academy Award of Merit, accepted on behalf of all film lab employees by director Christopher Nolan—we “[turn] silver and plastic into dreams”).

Winning aside, you may have heard various actors and actresses say that it’s an honor just to be nominated. We agree, and we’re going to focus on one of those honored films today. Jenny is a Good Thing (1969) received a nomination in the Documentary (Short Subject) category at the 42nd Academy Awards. Directed by Joan Horvath, narrated by Burt Lancaster, and with musical contributions by Noel “Paul” Stookey (of Peter, Paul and Mary), Jenny is a Good Thing highlights the importance of nutrition education in the Head Start program.

Head Start was created as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. On May 18, 1965, President Johnson announced Project Head Start, designed in order “to make certain that poverty’s children would not be forevermore poverty’s captives.” Head Start centers were to be places that would prepare children in poverty for school and position them for success in learning and life. The program was initially limited to the summer months, but soon expanded into a full-school-year schedule.

According to the companion discussion guide, Jenny is a Good Thing promotes the idea that in addition to offering basic nourishment, the Head Start nutrition program also provides “unique opportunities for program enrichment throughout the day, and a link through which communication and parent involvement can be initiated and strengthened.” For example, the film begins with a teacher opening a peapod and asking the children to describe what they find inside. What color are the peas? Are they flat or round? How do they taste? The exercise leads the children toward connecting a large vocabulary of descriptive words to their own experience and understanding of the world.

The film notes that many of the children coming to Head Start centers may not have had an opportunity to eat breakfast before arriving. The food they help prepare sustains them throughout the day and allows their focus to be on learning and development. Parents are brought in as special guests during mealtimes, helping to strengthen relationships between parents and teachers, and parent and child. The nutrition program even provides an opportunity for children to garden and grow the food shared at meals.

As we see the children preparing for a nap, Burt Lancaster delivers the fundamental argument of the film: “Nutrition, like every part of Head Start, works to break down poverty’s most corrosive effect: believing you are less than what you are. These children must learn that they are good because they exist. They must know they belong to a society that cherishes their existence.”

You can learn more about the preservation of Jenny is a Good Thing in the first installment of our new Film Preservation 201 series!

For more information about Oscar-winning films at the National Archives, click on the following titles:

If you are in the Washington, D.C., area, check out the 12th Annual Showcase of Academy Award–Nominated Documentaries and Short Subjects from February 24-28, 2016, in the National Archives’ William C. McGowan Theater!

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When a Workprint is the Only Print

This post was written by Criss Kovac. Criss Kovac is the supervisor of the Motion Picture Preservation Lab.

It’s not uncommon for NARA to receive less-than-perfect material for films created by federal agencies. One of the types of elements we sometimes receive is called a workprint. Workprints are like a rough draft for a film. The editor would make all of the potential edits using workprints and then run it past the director for the final okay before editing the original negatives. Workprints sometimes have composite optical tracks or might be accompanied by separate optical or magnetic tracks.  

Because they were working elements, workprints were generally handled heavily. Some typical calling cards of workprints include tape splices between most scenes, heavy scratches, fingerprints, dirt, tears, markings from grease pencils used to indicate future edits, fades, or dissolves, and slugs. Not slugs like the slimy things in your garden, but rather a piece of blank film that is inserted into the image reel that is used to indicate where shots have been removed, need to be inserted, or to keep the picture in sync with the soundtrack.

In the case of an early 1960s United States Information Agency (USIA) film with the working title of The American NegroNARA received a mish-mash of elements. For the image reels 1, 3, and 5 we have 35mm prints and for reels 2 and 4 we have 16mm prints. For the audio, we have five reels of intercut full coat and single stripe magnetic track. We also received several reels of 16mm original negative outtakes.

We have no way to know whether or not the film was ever completed, so the most original and complete copy we have is the workprint and associated audio. All of the reels have vinegar syndrome, particularly the magnetic tracks. Recently, we digitized all of the reels for a reference request. We then digitally assembled them to present the film in the most complete state possible. You can see all of the hallmarks of a workprint in the digitized version–the way that the audio isn’t quite in sync throughout all of the reels, the incomplete scene at 10:15, the deep white emulsion scratches leaving jagged lines in parts of the image, the slug just before Robert F. Kennedy speaks and during the Little Rock footage, and the grease pencil markings marring the left side of the frame during the choir rehearsal.

The film is much like many of the USIA’s other films exploring racial issues in America at the time and was meant to be shown to international audiences. It contains interviews that may not be captured elsewhere with James Farmer, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, and Ralph Metcalfe. Farmer, Wilkins, and Young were considered to be among the “Big Four” civil rights leaders along with Martin Luther King, Jr. James Farmer was the initiator of the the 1961 Freedom Ride and co-founder of the Congress for Racial Equality. Roy Wilkins was the executive director for the NAACP between 1955 and 1977. Whitney Young was the executive director of the National Urban League between 1961 and 1971. Ralph Metcalfe was an Olympic Athlete and won silver medals in 1932 and 1936 and later went on to be a four-term US Congressman from Illinois. The film also describes the strides and challenges faced by African Americans in the areas of voting, housing, and education.


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Photos from the Nazi Archives

Please Note:  This post contains images of sensitive content

The National Archives has a large collection of seized foreign records. Within the Still Photos Branch, the vast majority of these records pertain to Nazi Germany. Notable series include photographs taken by Heinrich Hoffman, Hitler’s official photographer, and a number of albums from Eva Braun, Hitler’s long-time girlfriend.   In recent months, the Still Photos Branch added another small, yet important, series of seized foreign records: Photographs Obtained from the National Socialist German Workers’ Party Archives.

Negative Jacket from Nazi Archives, 242-NA

Negative Jacket from Nazi Archives, 242-NA

In 1934, the Nazionalsozialtische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, better known as the Nazi Party, established a central records center. Called the NSDAP Hauptarchiv, the archives collected records created by Nazi officials, as well as Nazi organizations such as the SS and Hitler Youth.   Under direct orders from Rudolf Hess, the Hauptarchiv also collected documents from other institutions that documented the rise of Nazism.  As such, the Hauptarchiv contained a significant number of records from the first four decades of 20th century Germany.

When the war ended in 1945, Allied troops confiscated many records of the Hauptarchiv. These records, along with others related to the Nazi party and affiliated associations, were eventually moved to the Berlin Document Center (BDC).  The BDC kept records in order to facilitate the denazification proceedings, prosecute war criminals, and govern post-war Germany.  The BDC remained under American control until 1994, at which point the German Federal Archives, Bundesarchiv, took legal custody of the records.

In May of 1995, the records were shipped from the Bundesarchiv to NARA.  While the vast majority of these records were textual documents, a single box of photographs was later transferred to the Still Picture Branch and remained relatively unknown until a recent project to re-house and describe the material.

The photographs in this series reflect the original holdings of the NSDAP Hauptarchiv. Some images date back to 1915 and document the German role in WWI. Other photos document Nazi leadership, including numerous photographs of Hitler at the Nuremburg Rallies. The most striking photographs, however, show prisoners at Dachau concentration camp and children with disabilities. The National Archives only received contact sheets of these photos, some of which can be viewed below.

Prisoners at Dachau, 242-NA-12-3

Prisoners at Dachau, 242-NA-12-3

Prisoners at Dachau, 242-NA-12-2

Prisoners at Dachau, 242-NA-12-2

Prisoners at Dachau, 242-NA-12-1

Prisoners at Dachau, 242-NA-12-1

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All photographs from this series are now available upon request in the Still Photos Research Room.  See our catalog for more information.

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World War I Combat Artists – Andre Smith

Guest blogger Jan Hodges became interested in World War I combat art as a result of her involvement as a volunteer in a holdings maintenance project at the National Archives at College Park for Record Group 120, Records of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) Combat Forces 1918 – 1919.  This is the eighth article in the series about World War I Art and Artists.


Local Identifier: 111-SC-153116: Captain Andre Smith

Among the many images drawn by Captain Andre Smith, several capture the American experience in Belleau Wood.  Belleau Wood is famous for exemplifying the courage, grit and determination of the Marine Corps which made up the 5th and 6th regiments of the 2nd Division.

In early June 1918, the American 2nd Division joined with the French Army long the Marne River to drive the Germans out.  The division was assigned to cover nine miles of the front, near the town of Chateau-Thierry.


Local Identifier 111-SC-20139. Regimental Headquarters near Belleau Woods, located in the farm house known as Maison Blanc.  It was occupied at the time of my visit, June 28th, 1918, by Colonel Neville of the Marines.  By Captain J. Andre Smith

On June 6, the men were ordered to attack to take Belleau Wood and the village of Bouresches, just beyond Belleau Wood. The marines set out at dawn on a day that was warm and sunny. A prime objective was Hill 142, the highest point in the area. 5th Marines had the daunting task of wresting the hill, which was slightly to the west of Belleau Woods, from the Germans.  The enemy was well equipped and had the advantage of occupying the heights.  The marines lined up in rows to begin the assault. German machine guns mowed them down.  Through determination and great numbers, the marines were eventually victorious, but at a high price in terms of men and officers lost.


Local Identifier 111-SC-20144: The Trail to Belleau Woods.  By Captain J. Andre Smith.

Meanwhile, at the southern edge, Belleau Wood loomed ahead, softly green and silent. The Commanding General, James G. Harbord, of the 2nd Division expected the marines to clear the woods of the enemy in less than a day; in part because the French had informed the Americans that the woods were largely unoccupied, but also because no substantial reconnaissance of the area had been conducted. The Americans were convinced they would meet little resistance.


Local Identifier 111-SC-20168:  In Belleau Woods showing the thickness of the tree growth and the nature of the ground over which our men fought.  By. Captain J. Andre Smith.

The 6th Infantry Regiment of Marines entered the wood, in rows of five men abreast, some shoulder-to-shoulder, others separated by a few feet. Once in the woods, deadly traps ensnared the soldiers.  Thick undergrowth impeded the advance. Where the Americans found ways to move forward, they were met by unrelenting machine gun fire from hidden emplacements. The Germans killed or wounded large numbers of the surprised men. Unknown to them the marines faced the German 10th Division, a highly trained and experienced enemy.


Local Identifier 111-SC-25074: Fields of Belleau: The drawing was made on the edge of the village of Belleau and is looking across the Bouresches- Bussieres road to the north end of Belleau Wood.  In the foreground are shell holes that were occupied by Germans.  To the right are a row of American graves.  The sketch was made on August 3, 1918, by Captain Andre Smith, Engineer Corps.

The first day of the battle was a disaster. Hill 142 was taken, but German counterattacks kept the marines from advancing into the western part of Belleau.  At the southern end, the advance into the woods failed.


Local Identifier 111-SC-20171:  A Red Cross dressing station under a culvert constantly under fire on the trail to Belleau Woods.  By Captain J. Andre Smith.


Local Identifier 111-SC-20169: A roll call after the fight, a camp on the road to Belleau Woods, the first formation by squads.  By Captain J. Andre Smith. 

The battle for Belleau Wood continued until June 26, when the Germans were pushed out of the area for good. By battle’s end, the Americans had incurred almost 10,000 casualties; dead, wounded or captured by the Germans.  To honor of the sacrifice made by the men, the French renamed the wood to Bois de la Brigade de Marine.

The final part of this series will be about Harry Townsend.


National Archives. Still Pictures. Record Group 111-SC Army Signal Corps, WWI, Combat Artists, by name.

National Archives. Textual Records. Record Group 120. Records of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), World War I, G-2 Censorship and Press Division, Correspondence Relating to the Eight Official Artists of the AEF

Eisenhower, John S. D. Yanks: The Epic Story of the American Army in World War I. Simon & Schuster. New York. 2001

Farwell, Byron:  Over There; the United States in the Great War 1917 – 1918. W. W. Norton and Co. New York.1999.

Krass, Peter. Portrait of War: The U. S. Army’s Combat Artists and the Doughboys Experience in World War I. John Wiley and Sons.  New York. 2006.


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The Challenger’s Teacher in Space Project: Photos and Video

by Judy Luis-Watson, Manager of Volunteer and Education Programs at the National Archives at College Park, MD

The inclusion of a teacher, who would become the first private citizen in space, made the Space Shuttle Challenger mission especially exciting. This was the U.S. Government’s twenty-fifth space shuttle mission, twenty-four of which had been completed successfully.

In August 1984, President Reagan announced NASA’s new “Teacher in Space Project,” which was a part of NASA’s Space Flight Participant Program, an education and outreach initiative. The application process was demanding and lengthy.

Out of over 11,000 applications, state, territorial and agency review panels each selected two nominees. A total of 114 nominees then participated in June 1985 in a week-long conference on various aspects of space education in Washington, DC. Ten teachers were selected through a national review process to continue on to the next step.


306-PSF-85-2488c: Sharon Christa McAuliffe, a 36 year old mother of two was chosen from a field of some 10,000 applicants to be the first teacher in space. A Social Studies Instructor at Concord High School in New Hampshire, she flew aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger in January 1986. Behind her, in the airplane, are some of the 10 finalists who joined her in testing for the assignment. The teacher-in-space program resulted from a campaign pledge made by President Ronald Reagan during the election campaign of 1984.

In July 1985, at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, the ten finalists participated in thorough medical examinations and briefings about space flights. A NASA evaluation committee made up of senior NASA officials conducted further interviews with each teacher. This committee then made recommendations to the NASA Administrator, who made the final selection of two teachers.

The primary participant was Sharon Christa McAuliffe, a social studies teacher from Concord High School in Concord, New Hampshire. Years earlier, McAuliffe had been excited about the Apollo moon landing program. In her astronaut application she wrote, “I watched the Space Age being born and I would like to participate.” The back-up was Barbara Morgan, a teacher from McCall-Donnelly Elementary School in McCall, Idaho.

Video footage documented McAuliffe and Morgan’s training at the Johnson Space Center. The Teacher in Space Project required that two classroom lessons be taught in space, and preparing the lesson plans also was documented. Finding aids for the records provide detailed descriptions of the film clips and are available in the Motion Picture, Sound, and Video Research Room at the National Archives in College Park, MD.

255 STS-13778 (Teacher Training: Meeting) 

255-STS-113910 (Teacher Training: Space Station Briefing)

The seven-member crew of the Challenger Shuttle was surprisingly diverse. They were American men and women of Asian, African, and European ancestry from across the United States, including Hawaii.


306-PSF-86-208c: Crewmembers. Standing L-R: Ellison S. Onizuka, S. Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith A. Resnick. Sitting L-R: Michael J. Smith, Francis R. Scobee, Ronald E. McNair

Photographs available in the Still Picture Research Room include images of the individual crew members, the shuttle craft, the explosion during the launch on January 28, 1986, the recovery mission, and the members of The Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident. The National Archives expects to receive many more records from NASA in the near future. Click through the slideshow for more information about the photographs.

While the Teacher in Space Project ended following the Challenger Shuttle accident, NASA’s work with teachers has continued through its Educator Astronaut Project. The main difference is that teachers selected for the Educator Astronaut Project are required to leave their teaching careers and are trained to serve as part of NASA’s Astronaut corps. With their classroom experience, these educator astronauts explore new ways to connect space programs with classrooms.

On August 8, 2007, Barbara Morgan, who was the backup teacher for the Challenger Shuttle mission, became NASA’s first Educator Astronaut. She was assigned to the crew aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. The Challenger crew’s spirit of adventure and love of exploration and learning clearly lives on.

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) holds millions of photographs, motion pictures, audio-visuals, and cartographic records–special media–created by federal government agencies. The majority of the special media are preserved and made available at Archives II, the National Archives facility in College Park, Maryland. Some of these holdings are also available online at and

Federal government agencies send their permanently valuable records to NARA after an agreed-upon time so they may be preserved and made available to the public. Special media records related to the Space Shuttle Challenger can be found in the records of:

  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA (Record Group 255)
  • The Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident, 1986 (Record Group 220)
  • The United States Information Agency, USIA (Record Group 306)
  • The Office of the Secretary of Defence, 1921-2008 (Record Group 330)

For textual records related to the Space Shuttle Challenger, check and National Archives facilities in College Park, MD, Philadelphia, PA, Atlanta, GA and Fort Worth, TX, as well as the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

Many thanks to volunteers Harry Kidd who scanned records for this post, and Jan Hodges and Jim Tomney who described them for the online Catalog.  Much appreciation to Special Media staff Billy Wade, Carol Swain, and Audrey Amidon.


Additional Resources:

Bios of the Challenger crew

Challenger STS 51-L Accident

The families of the Space Shuttle Challenger created the Challenger Center for Space Science Education to continue the crew’s educational mission.

Information about NASA’s Educator Astronaut Program

This is not a NASA affiliated site, but covers the agency and related areas of space flight. is dedicated to expanding the public’s awareness and respect for the space flight industry.

Vice President George Bush announces Christa McAuliffe as the winner of the Teacher in Space project, July 19, 1985.

Information about the United States Rocket Academy’s Teachers in Space program that expanded to become the Citizens in Space program.

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Original Costume Sketches for a Production of Pinocchio, 1939

This post was written in collaboration with Kelsey Noel.


“This is the lesson of the penny.

Some have too many, 

Some have too few,

But share with those who haven’t any.”

                                                 – Yasha Frank

Broadway. December 23, 1938; the Ritz Theatre in Manhattan. This was opening night for Yasha Frank’s Pinocchio – a children’s play written and produced by Frank as part of the Work’s Progress Administration’s (WPA) Federal Theatre Project (FTP). Over the next six months until it closed on June 30, 1939, the theatrical presentation – well received and widely adored – would be performed in New York 197 times and work it’s way west to be performed across the country. 

Established by executive order in 1935, the WPA assumed a dominant role in work relief activities during the Great Depression. It was one of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal programs and sponsored the FTP as one of the five arts-related Federal Project Number One projects. The Federal Theatre Project was intended to improve unemployment in the entertainment industry. Actors, directors, playwrights, designers, vaudeville artists, stage technicians, and other skilled craftspeople in the theater field benefited from the program.

But in addition to providing jobs for employable people on the relief rolls, the FTP offered many Americans their first opportunity to see live theater. Many FTP productions were classical dramas, vaudeville, or light comedy, including a variety of children’s plays like Treasure Island, Hansel and Gretel and – of course – Pinocchio.

Yasha Frank, who became the Director of the Federal Theatre Children’s Unit in Los Angeles and later became National Consultant to the Children’s Theatre, made many changes to the theme and characters from Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of PinocchioHis play received widespread audience exposure across the United States, reaching many during its run on Broadway and subsequently on the west coast. One particularly interesting viewer, perhaps unsurprisingly, was Walt Disney. Inspired by Collodi and Frank’s Pinocchio, Disney released his classic animated movie in February of 1940, not long after the FTP had been dissolved and less than a year after Frank’s Pinocchio made its last appearance on Broadway.

The graphite and watercolor sketches seen throughout this post can be found in 69-PIN. Created by the Technical Department of the WPA’s National Service Bureau for a New York production, each sketch displays the original sketch number, date, and name of the character. Soon, the entire set of 32 sketches will be made digitally available for download and use from the The National Archives Catalog.

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