August 19, 2002 Library of Congress Acquires Rare Film Collection

Prelinger Collection Largest Collection of Ephemeral Films

Press Contact: Craig D’Ooge, (202) 707-9189, Rick Prelinger, (415) 750-0445 (Prelinger Archives)
Public Contact: (202) 707-8572

The Library of Congress announced today its acquisition of the Prelinger Collection, containing more than 48,000 historical “ephemeral” motion pictures, from its owner, Prelinger Archives of San Francisco.

The Prelinger Collection brings together a wide variety of American ephemeral motion pictures–advertising, educational, industrial, amateur, and documentary films depicting everyday life, culture, and industry in America throughout the 20th century. Although images from the collection have been used in thousands of films, television programs and other productions throughout the last 20 years, the films themselves have not generally been available to researchers and the general public.

“This comprehensive collection provides a unique window into the world of 20th century American ideas and lifestyles,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. “The picture it gives is quite distinct from that found in Hollywood feature films and newsreels. These are the films that children watched in the classroom, that workers viewed in their union halls, that advertisers presented in corporate boardrooms, and that homemakers saw at women’s club meetings.”

“The Library’s acquisition of our collection will ensure its long-term preservation and render it accessible to future generations. I’m thrilled that this cultural and social resource is becoming part of the world’s greatest treasury of recorded human knowledge,” said Rick Prelinger, president of Prelinger Archives.

Because of the size of the Prelinger Collection (more than 140,000 individual cans of film) and the numerous complexities involved in its processing, it will take several years before the Library will be in a position to provide access to these films–after the completion of a new motion picture storage and preservation facility in Culpeper, Va.

However, Prelinger Archives will continue to offer access to the collection through two primary channels. Those wishing to access films for research, pleasure or reuse may view and download 1,500 key titles without charge through the Internet Archive (, while those in search of stock footage for production may acquire it through Prelinger’s authorized representative, Getty Images ( Detailed information regarding access to the Prelinger Collection may be found at

The Library of Congress contains the largest collections of film and television in the world, from the earliest surviving copyrighted motion picture to the latest feature releases. Many of the films in the Prelinger Collection, however, were never submitted for copyright or were produced during the decades when film prints were not acquired by the Library as part of the copyright registration process. This was due to safety concerns about the storage of film prints produced on the highly flammable film nitrate stock used by the motion picture industry prior to 1951.

Ephemeral films vividly document the look and feel of times past and are unparalleled records of cultural and social history. The Prelinger Collection contains significant holdings in many areas, including hundreds of films on social guidance and etiquette; thousands of industrial films picturing automobile design and manufacturing, communications, technology, and engineering; over 250 hours of amateur films and home movies shot by ordinary Americans to document their lives, their homes, and their travels; films on vanished cultural and social landscapes; films on art, literature, science and every other field of education; and many thousands of films produced by regional production companies in all parts of the United States.

Approximately 40% of the collection consists of unique master materials, and a significant portion of the remainder is not held by any other archives. Two titles in the collection, “Master Hands” (1936) and “The House in the Middle” (1954), were recently named by the Librarian of Congress to the National Film Registry of culturally and historically significant films.


PR 02-106
ISSN 0731-3527