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Hoover Home Movies Offer Unique Peek of the White House

The recently released reels may be the earliest color film ever taken of the building.

Footage taken of President Herbert Hoover along with his family and colleagues during the late 1920s or early-1930s was recently examined at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, possibly becoming the earliest color film ever taken inside the White House grounds.

These seven reels, archived in the presidential library, were thought to be black-and-white until the library’s audio-visual archivist, Lynn Smith, came across them while doing inventory. She noted that, although they appeared black-and-white to the naked eye, further investigation revealed they were actually Kodacolor films—a rare type of film released in August 1928 that appears in color if displayed through a specific filtered lens. Thanks to a $5,600 grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation, she was able to verify that the grayscale world of the Hoovers does in fact come to life through color.

VIDEO: Historic Foodways Apprentice Tyler Wilson demonstrates how to make Ratafia Cakes using a recipe from John Nott’s “Cook’s and Confectioner’s Dictionary,” published in 1726. (Credit: Colonial Williamsburg)

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In fact, black-and-white films would have better represented the state of the White House at that time of Hoover’s presidency. The economy was on its downward spiral during his first year in office, as the country was heading into the Great Depression. These films, however, showed a side of Hoover’s presidency that had never been exposed to the public. Images of grandchildren playing with a dog and First Lady Lou walking through the White House garden provide a stark contrast to the state of the country and how the first family was perceived at the time.

Even the 31st president himself showed a more lighthearted side than one would expect, providing insight into a new game he invented, “Hooverball.” He took the known sport, “bull-in-the-ring,” and spiced it up with new rules, mixing in elements of volleyball. Hoover was not the only sports-minded president. While Gerald Ford was seen as a bit of a klutz thanks to a few literal missteps (like falling down the stairs of Air Force One), as a swimmer, runner, tennis player and college football MVP he was extremely athletic. Teddy Roosevelt was also relatively physical, known for wrestling in the White House. Hoover, however, was the only one to create his own sport, aptly named “Hooverball.” Now, we can see the president playing his game in color.

Hoover leads relief efforts during World War I.

Hoover leads relief efforts during World War I.

This new softening of the one-term president is largely thanks to his wife, who shared an interest in technology and photography with her husband. She even altered the West Hall of the White House to accommodate showings of her home movies. All of the reels that were realized in full color will be available via the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library on March 29, the 143rd anniversary of Lou Hoover’s birthday, when the same man who is largely credited with failing to address the incoming Great Depression can be seen smiling, laughing and carefree—all in color.

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