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Television-Commercial Finding Aids from the Library of Congress

Finding aids for four collections of television commercials and public service announcements are available in the Library of Congress's Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division and on the Library's Web site. Covering almost three decades of commercial production, these aids offer access to more than twenty-nine hundred commercials in the Dartmouth College Collection, the Robert R. Gitt Collection, the Lawrence F. Karr Collection, and the Lawrence F. Karr Collection of Public Service Announcements. They represent an important resource for researchers on topics such as the history of advertising, the history of broadcasting, film and media studies, consumer society, the use of animation, and American popular culture from about 1953 to 1975.

The Dartmouth College Collection

Dartmouth College donated the collection with the oldest items, the Dartmouth College Collection of television commercials, to the Library of Congress in 1966. The college received the commercials from an alumnus, Robert L. Lawrence, whose company had produced them. The Dartmouth collection comprises almost four hundred commercials made during the years 1952 to 1963. In addition to its U.S. operations, Robert Lawrence Productions maintained an office in Canada, so the collection includes a number of commercials meant for a Canadian audience, some of which are in French for French-speaking Canadians.

Because all the commercials in the Dartmouth Collection come from one production company, researchers can readily study the range of advertising approaches that were sometimes used to market a single product. For example, the collection's twenty-three commercials for Manischewitz wines use animation (which appeared extensively in 1950s commercials), jingles, personal pitches, and humorous scenarios.

In addition to Manischewitz, the companies with the most commercials in the Dartmouth Collection are Reynolds (aluminum products), Gerber (baby foods), and Molson (beers). Although some older commercials in this collection may seem dated or humorous to contemporary audiences, they were considered to represent the height of sophistication and excellence at the time they were made. Much of their unintended humor for today's audiences reveals how greatly social attitudes and behaviors have changed in the decades since their creation. It is possible to discern the now quaint-seeming optimism or anxieties of a bygone era in commercials that encourage children to "build their own subdivisions"; that show viewers how to decorate their aluminum Christmas trees with aluminum-foil decorations; or that deploy the resources of Green Mint mouth wash to advise viewers that if other people don't want to associate with them, maybe the problem is their breath.

The Robert R. Gitt Collection

The Gitt Collection contains 362 different commercials made during the early 1970s. They offer a broad view of American consumer culture during this time through advertisements for a wide variety of goods. For example, almost a quarter of the commercials in the collection tout toys, games, or dolls, disclosing the era's large market for children's items. This collection, as well as the others, also shows how celebrities were used to market commercial products. Here actress Ali McGraw peddles Love's cosmetics, actor-comedian Don Adams acts as spokesman for Hertz rental cars, and Farrah Fawcett and Cheryl Ladd appear before their Charlie's Angels television-drama fame in Max Factor cosmetics commercials.

The Lawrence F. Karr Collection

Consisting of almost two thousand commercials made during the 1960s, the Lawrence F. Karr Collection is the largest Library of Congress collection of television commercials for which a finding aid exists. All the commercials in this collection were broadcast on WJAR-TV, Channel 10, the NBC affiliate in Providence, Rhode Island. Although some of the commercials aimed at a regional viewership, most were intended for a national audience.

The Lawrence F. Karr Collection of Public Service Announcements

The Lawrence F. Karr Collection of Public Service Announcements contains seventy-five announcements that originally came to the Library with the larger Karr collection of television commercials. Most were broadcast during the 1960s on the East Coast of the United States. A number of these announcements feature famous spokespersons. For example, singer Pearl Bailey and actors Patricia Neal and Ray Bolger promote the American Heart Association, while Hollywood legend John Wayne extols the American Cancer Society's battle against cancer. Other announcements address a wide range of issues and programs, from the importance of membership in organizations such as the Air Force Reserve or the Girl Scouts to attempts to promote certain types of behavior such as drinking milk, safe driving, and wearing safety glasses. In other announcements, the US Department of Agriculture warns viewers to use pesticides safely, while the Internal Revenue Service reminds its television audience members to sign their income-tax returns.

The Library of Congress has other television commercials in its collections for which finding aids are not currently available. These may be accessed through various card and computer catalogs at the Library.


Karen C. Lund
National Digital Library Program

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