Cold War

America's Film History Is Stored In a Cold War Bunker

The U.S. Library of Congress in Washington D.C. is home to more than 160 million books, recordings, photos, manuscripts, and other important pieces of American cultural history. But not everything is kept within those walls. 75 miles to the southwest near the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains is the Packard Campus of the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center, a 415,000 square-foot (38,555 square-meter) facility that houses 140,000 reels of film. Those reels include classics such as Casablanca, flops such as Gigli, and even nitrate film—an old medium that's kept in its own vaults because it's highly flammable. In fact, all of the center's 6.3 million collection items are well protected, since the Packard Campus was once a nuclear bunker.

Originally opened in 1969 during the Cold War, the building formerly known as Culpeper Switch was designed to house $4 billion in gold—enough to replenish the U.S. cash supply east of the Mississippi River should the unthinkable happen. At the time of its construction, it was reportedly the world's largest single-floor vault. On top of its huge cash reserves, it also had 200 beds and enough freeze-dried food to feed 400 people for a month, ensuring that federal officials and their families would have a place to hunker down if disaster struck. But while the facility waited at the ready for the nuclear apocalypse, officials used it as a hub for the nation's banks. According to Gizmodo, within a year of its opening it was routing financial transactions among 5,700 banks around the country. This network had another purpose, of course—to keep the lines of communications open in case of nuclear attack.

Today, all that protection is now used to conserve the nation's film history. With that knowledge, you might feel a bit more reverence the next time you start up a movie—even if that movie is Gigli. Explore the historic Packard Campus and find out what goes on there in the videos below.

Digital Preservation At The National Audio-Visual Conservation Center

Learn how experts are working to save a century of American culture.

The Nuclear Bunker Preserving Movie History

Hear about the facility from a film archivist.

Written by Curiosity Staff October 26, 2016

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