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Preserving Electric City history

Schenectady Museum awarded $64K grant to digitize GE films

The Schenectady Museum has more than 1,000 original General Electric 16 mm films holding historical value not only for the Capital District, but for the county's technological progression as well. Now, the hope of having these films preserved forever is becoming a reality.

The federal Institute of Museum and Library Services award the Schenectady Museum a Museums for America grant totaling $64,437 to support purchasing high-definition film-transfer equipment and new archival film canisters. It also will cover the cost of hiring a temporary part-time film technician to transfer the film, which is done on a special computer.

We are really excited to get the grant, because it helps us preserve one of our most important collections, said Chris Hunter, director of archives and collections at the museum. "We will be able to make our entire film collection accessible to anyone who has Internet access."

The GE films cover the decades from 1915 to 1985 and help tell the story of electricity's growth in the country. More than 30 films from the collection are silent and are dated prior to 1927. About 90 percent of the films from that era are estimated to no longer exist, according to the museum.

Footage of early advertising films, educational science films and films documenting the engineering and manufacturing process is within the GE collection. There is even footage of science greats such as Thomas Edison, Charles Steinmetz and Irving Langmuir.

The museum gets about 2,000 requests for archive information a year. There are even well-known production companies, such as the History Channel and PBS, which frequently request information. Sometimes the museum is unable to fill a request because they have to send the film out to be transferred for the applicant.

"We were losing opportunities to get films out to the public and also losing revenue," said Hunter. "While the films are used by some of the major production companies, we also get a lot of students. We really see the whole spectrum of users for the collection and when we digitize that collection, it will only grow.

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