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Early History of the National Microfilm Association (AIIM)

By Marko Sillanpaa posted 05-16-2016 13:41


Every so often I find myself going down what my wife calls an Internet rat hole.  I come up with a question and start digging, find something cool, then cooler, and then I’m wondering how I got here.   This one started with discovering that AIIM started as the National Microfilm Association.  What I found was interesting.

I found a post on Digital Landfill from back in 2013 that talked about the history of AIIM and the National Microfilm Association that started in 1950.  I thought it would be fun to look back to the early days.

The Document that Started it All

The idea that would become AIIM started in 1944.  Franklin M Morgan, of Graphic Microfilm Services, sent a letter to four other microfilm service companies to propose founding a trade association.  The result was the formation of the National Microfilm Association (NMA).  Morgan became the first president but resigned in October 1945.  Eugene Power, the first vice-president, followed as president.  Still, Power is often cited as being the first president. 

NMA started in 1944 with 17 charter companies.  Many are still around today; Bausch and Lomb, Diebold, and American Optical Company.  NMA held its first convention in March 1945 in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Let’s put this in perspective.  NMA was founded during World War II and had its first meeting before the end of the war.  In fact, Power worked to microfilm rare books in the British archives and sent microfilmed intelligence back to the U.S. during the war.  Morgan had been a microfilm consultant to the Signal Corps Photographic Center.  Vernon Dale Tate, who would become secretary of NMA, had been assigned to the Office of Strategic Services.

Tate was secretary of NMA from 1946 to 1948 and in 1952 became Executive Secretary where he remained until 1973.  Tate had worked for the Library of Congress and was Director of the National Archives.  He was head librarian at MIT during most of his time with NMA.  Tate was a strong proponent of NMA and micrographic technology.

Power and Tate were key individuals in keeping NMA together during its decline from 1947 to 1951.  NMA was revitalized in February 1952 after a meeting at the Library of Congress.  One hundred delegates from 35 organizations involved in microfilm were in attendance.  That’s double the original 17 charter companies.  From here, the Digital Landfill post takes the story.

Special Thanks a.k.a. Bibliography  

I would not have been able to find most of this information if it wasn’t for Vernon Dale Tate maintaining an archive for the NMA.  Those archives are now in the University of Michigan Library and part of a Microfilm Pioneers Collection.  I also found some information from American Archivist, the publication of the Society of American Archivists.  Maybe someday I’ll find myself near the University of Michigan and try to get a look at the letter that started it all.


Marko Sillanpaa, ECMp, SMGp 

#NMA #history
1 comment


05-17-2016 15:55

Movements rarely chronicle their history for the first few generations. It starts when people later say "who are we, and how did we get here?". This is part of the lasting value of good records management, also, right? I see great value in continuing this look back to help us look ahead.