The company originated as a Manhattan based research archive named Associated Researchers and Image Quest; it was founded by Joe Lauro and Richard Plagge in 1991. Lauro had previously worked for Archive Films as a researcher and decided to form his own company. They soon realized that licensing footage paid more than just researching where to find it. In 1993, the company moved to East Hampton, close to Plagge's home.
In 1994 Plagge died, and Lauro formed a partnership with California producer Andrew Solt, the owner of the rights to the "Ed Sullivan Show." They converted ARIQ into the Historic Film Archive in 1997.