For the last thirty years, California-based film archivist Rick Prelinger has been collecting and archiving “ephemeral” films, those sponsored by corporations and organisations, educational films, and amateur and home movies, mostly from the early to mid-twentieth century.
Founded in 1983, Prelinger’s collection has amassed to over 60,000 films, 65% of which are said to be orphan works, meaning they lack copyright owners and active custodians.
In 2000, Prelinger partnered with Internet Archive to make a subset of the Prelinger Collection (now 6,500 films) available online for free viewing, downloading and reuse. Most films relate to U.S. cultural history, the evolution of the American landscape, everyday life and social history.
In 2002, the film collection was acquired by the Library of Congress, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division. Of the collection, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington has said:
“This comprehensive collection provides a unique window into the world of 20th-century American ideas and lifestyles. 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.”
Check out this Lucky Strike ad from 1948, found in Prelinger’s Archive:
You can stream hundreds of hours of these films for free, right here.