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Brief History of Microfilm

 
 
Pre-1920s Microform Pre-1920s
Although treated as a novelty until the 1920s, microforms originated much earlier. John Benjamin Dancer, an English scientist, known as the "Father of Microphotography," began to experiment with and manufacture microproduced novelty texts as early as 1839. In 1853 he successfully sold microphotographs as slides to be viewed with a microscope. Utilizing Dancer's techniques, a French optician, Rene Dagron, was granted the first patent for microfilm in 1859 and began the first commercial microfilming enterprise. Dagron, during the Franco-Prussian War, demonstrated a practical use for microforms when carrier pigeons were used to transport microfilmed messages across German lines.
 
1920s Microform 1920s
The first practical use of commercial microfilm was developed by a New York City banker, George McCarthy, in the 1920s. He was issued a patent in 1925 for his Checkograph machine, designed to make permanent film copies of all bank records. In 1928 Eastman Kodak bought McCarthy's invention and began to market it under Kodak's Recordak Division.
 
1930s 35mm Microfilm Camera 1930s
With a perfected 35mm microfilm camera, Recordak in 1935 expanded and began filming and publishing the New York Times in microfilm. Two significant events in 1938 hastened the use of microforms for archival preservation in American libraries and institutions. Because of rapid deterioration of the newsprint original and the numerous difficulties in storage and use of newspapers, Harvard University Library began its Foreign Newspaper Project. Today this project continues and the microform masters are stored at the Center for Research Studies in Chicago. This same year also saw the founding of University Microfilms, Inc. ('UMI') by Eugene Power.
 
1940s Microphotography 1940s
During World War II microphotography was used extensively for espionage and for regular military mail. Letters going overseas were sent on microfilm, with a V-mail or "hardcopy" being produced and forwarded at the receiving side. The war also brought a threat of destruction to the records of civilization. This threat added the urgency for the microfilming of records, documents, archives and collections. During the closing war years and immediate post-war years, there was a flurry of microfilming by occupying nations.
 
1950s and 1960s Microform 1950s and 1960s
After the war, the idea of using microforms for active information systems and just for preservation of material was proposed. It was envisioned that libraries utilize microforms as active information sources as well as use for storage mediums. Increased funding and improved technology in the late 50s and 60s encouraged academic libraries and research libraries to continue to expand their activities in the area of microforms.
 
1970s Microform 1970s
In the 1970s the information explosion forced libraries and institutions and their users to microforms as an alternative to bulky expensive print materials. Improved film, readers, viewers, reader-printers, and the advent of portable lap readers made this money-saving choice more acceptable.
 
1980s and 1990s Microform 1980s and 1990s
Kodak introduces polyester-based microfilm, which quickly becomes the new standard. The old "Kodak Safety Film", which used an acetate base, had a giant drawback - the acetate begins to break down into acetic acid, otherwise known as vinegar syndrome. This process takes decades, so went unnoticed until some early collections started smelling of salad. The permanence of microfilm masters on film is the standard for most libraries and those applications where preservation is an issue. Heritage Microfilm becomes the first commercial vendor to apply Kodak Brown Toner technology to all of its silver film, resulting in "bulletproof" film that resists redox and is shown to accurately preserve images for over 500 years in aging simulation lab testing.
 
Film and Microfilm 2000 and Beyond
With the production of 500 year life expectancy film by companies like Heritage, microforms will have a future not only in the short term but well into the new millennia.
 
 
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