The National Film Preservation Foundation, with the help of the Library of Congress, Internet Archive, and other film resources, has made more than 100 “sponsored films” freely available to the public through its website. Some of the vintage films were sponsored by associations.
Before there was content marketing, or even the internet, there were “sponsored films,” mini-features that were paid for by a company or an organization.
These films didn’t always make a hard pitch to consumers—instead, they might be focused on safety or etiquette. And although they were intended as a pre-television form of advertising, the films have cultural value, according to the National Film Preservation Foundation.
This month, working with the Library of Congress, NFPF launched an Online Field Guide to Sponsored Films, a searchable collection of 102 examples. The foundation first drew attention to the films in 2006, when it published The Field Guide to Sponsored Films by collector Rick Prelinger.
“These titles are a constantly rewarding chronicle of lived experience in the modern age, a rich visual resource that will prove invaluable to scholars and casual viewers alike,” Mike Mashon, head of the Moving Image Section at the Library of Congress, said in comments on the foundation’s website. “The Library has more than 300 of the 452 Field Guide titles in its collection, so it made sense for us to prioritize them for digitization as part of our ongoing preservation activity. And since most are in the public domain, we’re excited to partner with the NFPF to make them available online.”
Of the 102 films, 83 were provided by the Library of Congress, while numerous others came from private archives, including Prelinger’s own Prelinger Archives. Also supporting the effort is the Internet Archive, which is hosting the films.
The movies cover a wide array of subjects, and many were sponsored by associations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; the International Association of Machinists; the National Federation of American Shipping; the Louisiana Association for Mental Health; the National Association of Manufacturers; and the National Paint, Varnish, and Lacquer Association.
Some of the films make unusual claims. The paint industry group’s film, The House in the Middle, for example, suggests that a well-painted house is more likely to survive a nuclear attack than one that isn’t.
Sponsored films offer “a picture of 20th-century America that adds a great deal to our understanding of daily life and work, gender roles, persuasion and consensus, politics, and culture,” Prelinger said in the NFPF statement. “Each sponsored film is a history lesson that can entertain while offering us serious and useful insights about the past so that we can look more knowledgeably toward the future.”