In January 1941, the National Archives accepted a copy of the award-winning—and controversial—film Gone with the Wind. Senator Walter F. George of Georgia and Loews Eastern Division Manager Carter Barron presented the donation to the first Archivist of the United States, R.D.W. Connor, in his office.
While handing over the film, George, who was chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, praised the motion picture industry in the U.S., saying the industry exemplifies, “the great constructive force of the screen in promoting a better understanding not only among people of our own nation but of the people of all nations.” He added that it was “a force which in these times assumes far greater importance and significance in our international relations than ever before and establishes the motion picture as the first spokesman of the American way of life.”
George’s statements were potentially a rebuttal of his colleague from Montana, Senator Burton K. Wheeler, who criticized the motion picture industry for promoting U.S involvement in the war in Europe with such films as the antifascist, “March of Time.” This was all occurring in the year leading up to the U.S. entering World War II in December 1941.
The donation constituted a complete, multireel 35mm technicolor print of the film. The photo shows George handing over just one reel, but the entire film was 19,795 feet contained in four large cases initialed “GWTW.”
At that time, the National Archives, which had begun accepting records in 1936, had eight film vaults for its film collections. By the time Gone with the Wind arrived in 1941, the film vaults were completely full, and a new storage facility was needed. The Archives began storing its film off-site in Fort Hunt, VA, and by 1946, the National Archives opened new film vaults in Suitland, MD, which included the highly flammable nitrate film in its holdings.
Unfortunately, and perhaps ironically, the National Archives copy of Gone with the Wind was destroyed in the 1978 Suitland film vault fire, which destroyed approximately 12.6 million feet of film. After the fire, the National Archives copied any remaining nitrate to acetate or polyester safety film and disposed of the original reels.