Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Forward Look Back, Part 3

A brief look at Nitrate testing and storage History.

The written portion of this section will be very brief.  I am including a link to some wonderful photos I located many years ago.

      One of the things it might surprise some people to learn is that the knowledge of Nitrate Film inherent dangers were well known from the industry's infancy.  Besides what many people consider to be Nitrates Films superior Optical qualities, in the early days there was no viable alternative film base that proved satisfactory.  While some "Safety Bases were touted, initially either for economic or physical property reasons it was decided to stick with Nitrate.  Serious testing on Nitrate Film began in earnest as early as 1915 with testing sponsored by the National Board of Fire Underwriters.  This came about after some high profile Film Fires such as the Ferguson Building fire of 1909  where the U.S Geological Survey Explosives unit became involved.  Beginning in the 1920' The Society of Motion Picture Engineers began addressing this issue in some published works listeed in its Transactions of the S.M.P.E and Later S.M.P.E Journal.  In the 1930's the S.M.P.E. formed a Preservation Committee which provided a lot of information for policies adapted by the U.S.National Archives Motion Picture Division for the Storage and Handling of Motion Picture Film.  Beginning in the mid 1930's a joint effort between the National Bureau of Standards, The Library of Congress, and the National Archives  culminated in a series of tests conducted at the NBS Beltsville Facility.  A test Film Vault was constructed, with a sprinkler system installed as well as top and side blow out vents to provided releases of build up of any gases.  Much data was compiled and used to develop as a guideline for developments in building the Archives New Storage Vaults. Here is a link to a series of photos from test conducted in the 1940's.  Nitrate Vault Tests

Part 4 will be a summary of all these events listed in the first 3 parts.


Joe Thompson said...

Thank you for another informative post. I have a nice article about the film exchange file in the Ferguson Building that may become Part III of my contributions.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Bucky it's me, Mary Ault.
I'd like to add some information about the 2 Eclair cameras that were converted into the ones that Niver "claimed" to have invented. He didn't invent any of it except for the name "Renovare Productions" It was the Englishman who he fired after the inital work was done in the mid 1950's.
And as for my father William E. Ault, he started working for Niver back in the 'early 50's after the original format had been sketched out by that Australian guy whose name I cannot conjour up right now.
The 2 machines - one of which is still at the Univ. of Ohio were cannabilized from several different Eclair cameras ending up in the 2 remaining.
BTW, Niver was married to Margaret Harrick, who came up with the name of "Primrose Production". She was the one who helped him establish his company. He'd also been one of the "Hat Squad" back in the of Los Angeles and it's infamous police force.
The original wizard of oz less charm.
Let's not even mention what happened with the Pickford fire at the United Bank in Beverly Hills that was used as a restoration site in the '60's due to everyone's penury. She lost all or most of her early work then. And the same with the Harold Lloyd collection fire in his basement.

My reason for writing this is to give credit to the actual living human being who did the Library of Congress work for Niver. He was never given anymore than a passing reference for that which ultimately ended his life - nitrate and the chemical issues with that material. It'll be ten years this March 19 that he passed away - it'd be nice to see a black boxed memorial to William and his work.
Thanks again for reading and I can be reached at