Schenectady County

Museum digitizes GE films, uploads them to YouTube

The Schenectady Museum is using YouTube to rebroadcast more than 1,000 of its General Electric films

YouTube isn’t just for repeat viewings of Charlie biting his brother’s finger anymore.

The Schenectady Museum is using the website to rebroadcast more than 1,000 of its General Electric films, which date back to 1915 and include advertisements, raw footage of equipment tests and company picnics, promotional clips and the Ronald Reagan-hosted series General Electric Theater.

The museum’s archive was previously only available on 16 millimeter film and was viewed infrequently because of its condition and the cumbersome process of viewing it, said museum Curator Chris Hunter.

And while conversion techniques existed to digitize the film, until recently it was still an elaborate process that needed to be done off-site and would take weeks to finish. All of that changed with new digital technology, which Hunter said is helping the museum “preserve and promote history.”

Thanks to grants from the Institute for Museum and Library Services and IEEE Life Members’ Foundation, the museum was able to purchase a high-definition film transfer machine and pay someone to operate it.

Find it online

• The channel can be found by searching “Schenectady Museum” on Youtube or by visiting

The conversion process began a year ago, with the camera capturing shots of the original film as it ran at half-speed and then putting it all together into a high-definition video. The museum is almost done with the digitizing, having completed more than 1,100 of 1,500 films; some films are repeats.

Films range from one minute to 45 minutes long, with a number of the approximately 30-minute GE Theater programs.

The films are now being added every day to the museum’s YouTube channel, “Schenectady Museum: Innovation and Tech Films.” There are more than 50 videos available now on the channel, including ones about electric cars, home appliances and an advertisement with pitcher Bob Gibson throwing fastballs against shatterproof glass.

“With a collection like this there are a lot of favorites,” Hunter said. One of his favorite films is from the late 1970s and features an electric car on a racetrack.

He added, “The biggest surprise we’ve found so far is an employee training film that featured a young Jonathan Winters.”

The hope for the project is that it can reach a wide range of potential viewers, both young and old. “It will be nostalgic for members of the community and give other people a chance to see what the community looked like 50, 60 or even 100 years ago,” Hunter said.

“One of the great things about YouTube is that it is really easy to target different audiences, so part of it is just making the world aware of Schenectady’s amazing technological heritage. It wasn’t just Thomas Edison in the 1880s; there are a lot of great inventions happening today,” he added. “There has been cutting edge research going on in this area for over 125 years.”

Niskayuna resident Ed Reilly, 79, will be scouring the site for GE’s House of Magic segments, which he remembers his dad taking him to when he was a child. At least one of those programs is already on the site, with a 1955 clip of GE’s Progress Reporter Don Herbert demonstrating a few tricks.

“I will certainly be thrilled to see it,” Reilly said. He predicted the community would like the feature.

Ernie Tetrault, 85, of Niskayuna, said the museum’s project was worth pursuing because of how linked GE and Schenectady are in each other’s history.

Before the new conversion technique, the museum struggled to make its collection available to people, mostly documentarians who wanted to utilize it. Hunter boasted that now they can instantly put a video from their collection onto a blu-ray, DVD or hard drive and send it out in one day.

The museum hopes to finish uploading all of its film videos in the next year and potentially begin digitizing its 1,200 video tape archives in the near future.

Categories: Life and Arts, Schenectady County

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