The Unknown Soldier series: Where does World War I video footage come from?

Digital Originals

Movie camera film from the National Archives of the Unknown Soldier being brought aboard the U.S.S. Olympia

(WHTM) — World War I was notable for many reasons — brutal slaughter being the foremost. But it’s also the first war to be extensively recorded on motion picture film. During the five years of the war, cinematographers on both sides of the conflict shot literally miles of film, showing everything from basic training to actual combat.

The cameras used 35 mm motion picture film, the same kind used by Hollywood (16 mm movie film wouldn’t be introduced by Eastman Kodak until 1923 and was considered an “amateur” format). Everything was black-and-white; a practical method of shooting movies in color wouldn’t come along until the mid-1920s.

The cameras were hand-cranked at about 16-18 frames per second. Between the large size of the cameras and the hand-cranking, every shot had to be on a tripod.

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Looking for film from World War I can be a daunting task, but the National Archives make it easy. The collections of the archive include thousands of movies, of which 3,352 are up on the National Archives YouTube channel. Two of them became abc27 reporter David Tristan’s primary sources for a series on the Unknown Soldier:

America Goes Over: A documentary produced by the Army Signal Corps showing prewar America, The U.S. joining the war effort, and ultimately, the “doughboys” going into battle

The Unknown Soldier of the World War: Follows the Unknown Soldier from his arrival in Le Havre, France, being put on board the cruiser Olympia, lying in state at the U.S. Capitol, and the parade to Arlington Cemetery

Some other movies Tristan looked at:

That leaves just 3,343 videos on the National Archive YouTube channel to go, covering life in America from the invention of movies to today. Dive in and have fun.

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