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From A-Bombs to Zeppelins: 120 Years of Stories in 1 Million Minutes of AP Footage

Nelson Mandela “taking his first steps into a new South Africa.” John F. Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech. Beatlemania. Atomic bomb tests. Apollo 11. The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hindenburg_burning

Nelson Mandela “taking his first steps into a new South Africa.” John F. Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech. Beatlemania. Atomic bomb tests. Apollo 11. The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Associated Press was on the front lines of global news as the video age unfolded. On Wednesday, it made available on YouTube more than 1 million hours of historical footage, from its own vast (heretofore mostly not-yet digitized) collection and from the British Movietone newsreel archive, including 550,000 separate videos, dating from 1895 to the present.

Founded in 1846 as a cost-saving measure by New York newspapers covering the Mexican-American war, the AP’s not-for-profit newswire cooperative has endured the ups and downs of the media industry and now operates in more than 280 locations worldwide. It is owned by 1,400 member newspapers.

The far-reaching video treasure trove hits the major moments of the past 120 years but also thousands upon thousands of forgotten oddments.

The digitization project was “a labor of love” on the part of the cooperative’s international archive team, mostly based in London, but also a business decision, Paul Colford, director of media relations for the AP, told Foreign Policy. “The thought is that on the one hand we hope people will use them as a resource and enjoy them,” he said. “We are also aware of the fact that this is the business world, where documentary filmmakers and the million-and-a-half people who make reality television shows are looking for material. This is going to be a place for them to shop for what they need. Hopefully, there will be some licensing opportunities moving forward for the AP and for British Movietone.”

Here are a few highlights from the bottomless collections.

The doom of the Hindenburg, 1937:

V-E Day in London, 1945:

The Berlin Wall comes down, 1989:

‪Prospecting for uranium on holiday in Rhodesia, 1957:

Kittens, 1955:

“Even without these thousands of videos, most of which are tied to news events of some importance, there’s still the yield of animal footage that never seems to go old,” Colford said.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Benjamin Soloway is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @bsoloway

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