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Genealogy on Film: Industry On Parade

When we think of genealogy on film, we tend to think of the current rage like "Genealogy TV" or "Roots Television." But they are late comers to genealogy on film.


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Genealogy is so much more than names and dates. These are merely the milestones around which we live and work and play. It has long been a tradition to record such information in journals. But for half a decade, that history has been preserved on 16mm film and archived for us.

The National Association of Manufacturers created the "Industry on Parade" film project in 1950, in conjunction with the NBC network. On October 15, 1950, the first episode was shown. They continued filming American manufacturing and business until 1960.

The films were distributed to one television station in each U. S. market, free of charge. The local televeision stations usually broadcast these episodes in non-prime time slots.

During that decade, hundreds of Americans appeared in these television broadcasts. They were employees filmed at work, demonstrating how they do their job. Some showed what summer camp was like. History itself became history via "Industry on Parade," in an episode called "The Museum That Lives!". This November 1950 broadcast told the story of Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts.

The names of the individuals appearing in "Industry on Parade" were not provided. But, if you know where Uncle Lawrence worked, you just might find a clip of him doing his job.

According to an Industry on Parade fact sheet, published on October 15, 1955, on the fifth anniversary of the project, the goal was to

"to show the marvels of American industrial technology in operation and show how the industrial process results in higher living standards, to show new developments in the fields of science, invention, and research, particularly as they contribute to health, welfare, and national defense, to show the integral part that industry plays in the civic, religious, and social life of American communities as well as the economic, to show people who work in industry and the attention industry pays to their well-being, and to show some of the difficult problems that have been faced and solved by American industry."

Subjects include business, community life, and recreation.

Value to Genealogists

At first glance, these films may not seem like genealogical research. But, they are the "reality TV" of their time. The people who appear in these films are actual workers. They are not actors. They are on film demonstrating the work process they follow every day.

I discovered "Industry on Parade" when I began researching my uncle who died in 1955. I knew that at the time of his death he was working for Century Broom in Mattoon, Illinois. I had been told several stories about what he did for a living and wanted to know which was true.

I discovered that Century Broom had been filmed by "Industry on Parade." I eventually was able to obtain a copy of that 13 minute episode, hoping I might see Uncle Lawrence in the background. I was thrilled when the camera panned to a part of the factory where Uncle Lawrence was in a close-up shot! He demonstrated how he prepared broomcorn and loaded it into a machine. It was only a clip of a moment or two. But, it was the first time I ever "saw" Uncle Lawrence, since he died a year before I was born. It settled once and for all what Uncle Lawrence actually did at the factory, at that time. The reel was available for broadcast on October 5, 1951, near the end of the first year of the project. I don't know the exact date that the filming took place but, I can narrow it down to a timeframe of 51 weeks.

These films take us inside our ancestors' lives. Aside from home movies, there is probably no better record of our lives during the 1950's.

Accessing the Collection

The Smithsonian Institution has archived a decade of the "Industry on Parade" film collection. The collection includes 428 reels of 16mm black and white film, with sound. The list of companies, children's camps, and other entities is online at the Smithsonian website.

The films are available for viewing at the Smithsonian Institute. The collection is copyrighted but the Smithsonian archivist does consider duplication requests, for a fee.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2009.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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