Filmstrips were a common form of instructional multimedia used by instructors in both primary schools and secondary (K-12) schools. Often entertaining, filmstrips were popular with students and teachers because they provided an easy and inexpensive way to invigorate a teaching curriculum by offering students an opportunity to learn by watching and listening.


The filmstrip was a spooled strip of 35 mm positive film with approximately 30-50 images arranged sequentially. Typically a filmstrip's running time was between 10 and 20 minutes. Depending on how they were narrated or produced, filmstrips (which often came with an Instructor's Guide) were flexible enough to be used in both self-paced learning formats or in a full classroom.

Among the most popular filmstrip series produced in the 1960s were those with titles such as Folk Songs in American History, and Famous American Artists; both of which were written by Charles Bergwall. (Note: variants of the 35 mm filmstrip included the self-contained 16 mm Labelle Cartridge Filmstrip format that was favored by the DOD and corporate environment.)

Filmstrips became popular in the late 1960s when government funding to public school libraries provided money for purchasing filmstrip based on a per-pupil formula. They were used widely throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s in the US and UK. They now remain in use today in parts of the world where TVs are not readily accessible. EyeGate Media, Inc. of Jamaica, NY was a notable producer of many titles in the late 50s and early 60s. By the latter part of the 60s, firms such as Warren Schloat Productions, Inc. of Pleasantville, NY; CBS; The New York Times; Scott Education; Coronet; Sunburst Media; and Guidance Associates, Inc. of Mt Kisco, NY were producing reels featuring photographs by famous artists and of notable events with a synchronized audio track. The music and narration for the filmstrip originally came on a vinyl album. (Note: in 1968 Warren Schloat Productions, Inc. was purchased by Prentice-Hall Publishing and was renamed Prentice-Hall Media. Prentice-Hall Media was sold by Prentice-Hall to Guidance Associates in the mid-1980s.)

In the early 1970s, vinyl albums gave way to audio cassettes, and filmstrips moved beyond traditional arts and humanities courses, branching into the sciences and vocational/technical subject areas. This shift was lead by firms such as Bergwall Productions, Inc. of Garden City, NY; DCA, Inc. of Warrington, PA; MedCom, Inc. of Garden Grove, CA; National Geographic; and Brittanica. Major universities such as Cal-Poly San Luis Obisbo and University of Ohio also shifted to the use of audio cassettes.

The 1980s brought the advent of the video cassette recorder (VCR), and advancing technology meant increasingly affordable VCRs. When they became within reach for most school district's budgets, this marked the beginning of the end of filmstrips. Video instruction combined the ease of the filmstrip with pre-synchronized audio and the dynamic images of television. By the early 1990s, the vast majority of filmstrips producers, who were not equipped to compete with video, closed or sold their businesses. Among the few that made the transition were Bergwall Productions, Inc. of Chadds Ford, PA and Films for the Sciences and Humanities (Princeton, NJ). These two companies thrived as suppliers of video-based instructional materials, and continue to do so today.

The instructive methodology pioneered through the 35 mm filmstrip is still very much alive today, as demonstrated by internet-based instructional and information products. Audio-visual instruction is a powerful learning tool - regardless of how it is delivered - and will remain so for years to come.

Common Use Practices

The instructor would turn on a film projector that would show the first frame (image) of the filmstrip. The instructor then turned on a 33 RPM record or cassette tape containing the audio material for the filmstrip, which included narration. At the appropriate point, a tone would sound, signaling the instructor (or a student volunteer) to turn a knob, advancing to the next frame.

Advances in Techonology

During the 1970s, advanced projectors became available, and these projectors would automatically advance the film by means of a 50 Hz subaudible tone recorded on the cassette that would be detected by the projector, and automatically advance the frame. In fact, most cassettes accompanying filmstrips in the 1970s and 1980s would have the audio material on one side with audible tones for older manual projectors, and the same audio on the other side of the cassette, but with subaudible tones instead for automatic projectors. Some select filmstrip releases also had both audible and subaudible tones combined, making the filmstrip and its companion cassette compatible with any filmstrip projector. However, if improperly setup, the narration and film would not be synchronized.

Early celluloid filmstrips had a habit of melting or combusting from the intense and sustained heat of the projection lamp.

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