Microfilm (1890s – )

Microphotography was first used as early as 1839 by John Benjamin Dancer using the daguerreotype process, and microphotography later saw military use in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71 as a means of allowing pigeons to carry dispatches in compressed form.

The first transparent plastic roll films were introduced in 1889.

Microfilm was first used commercially in the 1920s. New York City banker George McCarthy was issued a patent in 1925 for his Checkograph machine, designed to make micrographic copies of cancelled cheques. In 1928, the Eastman Kodak Company bought McCarthy’s invention and began marketing cheque microfilming devices under its Recordak division.

Microfilm is usually unperforated 16mm or 35mm film. Microfilmed images are usually provided as black and white negatives, but positive images and colour are also used.

Microfilm has been used to store images many different types of material, including newspapers, books, periodicals, cheques, betting slips, and census returns.

Until the 1930s, nitrate film was used, which is explosive and flammable. From the late 1930s to the 1980s, microfilms were usually printed on a cellulose acetate base, which is prone to tears, vinegar syndrome, and redox blemishes. Preservation standard microfilms use the silver halide process, creating silver images in hard gelatin emulsion on a polyester base. With appropriate storage conditions, this film has a life expectancy of 500 years.

Unlike digital media, no software is required to decode the contents, but the images are usually too small to read with the naked eye and need to be magnified to be read.

Sources / Resources