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The Bettmann Archive is a collection of 19 million photographs and images, some going back to the United States Civil War and including some of the best known U.S. historic images. The Archive also includes many images from Europe and elsewhere.
It was founded in 1936 by Otto Bettmann (1903–1998), a German curator who emigrated to the United States in 1935. He actively expanded his collection by placing ads in magazines. He placed an advertisement in the Winter 1959 issue of Film Quarterly "Wanting to buy: Old movie stills - ca. 1915 to 1935; early comedies -- well-known stars and productions."
In 1995, the archive was sold to Corbis, a digital stock photography company founded by Bill Gates. Issues arising from this sale regarding the restriction of access to the collection were described in the editorial "Goodbye to All That" in the May 2001 issue of American Heritage magazine.
Between late-2001 and March 2002, to preserve the photos and negatives, Corbis moved the archive from Manhattan to the Iron Mountain National Underground Storage Facility, a former limestone quarry located 220 feet (67 m) below ground in western Pennsylvania. The temperature of the storage room is gradually being lowered to -4 °F (-20 °C), which was determined by film preservationist Harry Wilhelm to be the optimal temperature for the long-term storage of the archive. At this temperature, the collection will degrade 500 times more slowly in storage at Iron Mountain than it did in Manhattan. Meanwhile, Corbis has been scanning the negatives into digital form as they are ordered by clients.
The archive began with Otto Bettmann's personal collection of 15,000 images which he brought with him in suitcases when he escaped from Nazi Germany. Over the years, it acquired other collections, including the Gendreau Collection of Americana in 1967, the Underwood & Underwood Collection of material from late 19th century to World War I in 1971, and the United Press International collection in 1984.
- "Film Quarterly" 13 (2). Winter 1959: 8.
- Snow, Richard F. (May 2001). "Goodbye To All That". American Heritage 52 (3) (New York City: American Heritage Publishing Company). p. 5.
- Weinberger, David. 2007. Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
- Wilhelm, Henry et al. (2004) High-Security, Sub-Zero Cold Storage For the PERMANENT Preservation of the Corbis-Bettmann Archive Photography Collection, IS&T's 2004 Archiving Conference
- Susanne Mendack: Schatzkammer der Fotografie: das legendäre Bettmann-Archiv. Düsseldorf: Feymedia, 2009. ISBN 3-941459-04-X
- Bettmann Archive on Corbis
- Monika Idems: "Bettmann-Archiv - Schatzkammer der Fotografie" - Review in WAZ, 20. Dez. 2009, with sample images
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