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May 6

Found: The Earliest Color Footage of the White House

It features Herbert Hoover playing with a six-pound medicine ball.



Two years ago, an archivist at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum was looking through the collection’s film reels, when she came across a series of films labeled “Kodacolor.” As the Washington Post reports, the films look black and white, but they had unusual lines on their frames. After the archivist, Lynn Smith, did some research, she realized that these were color films, that need a special filter to show their full potential. 

Now, the library has had those reels preserved and digitized. The result: it’s now possible to view what may be the first color footage of the White House ever taken. 

The films were shot by First Lady Lou Hoover. Her husband’s often thought of as a stuffy technocrat who failed to stop the Great Depression, but the Hoovers were ahead of their time in many ways. Lou Hoover met Herbert (who she called “Bert”) while studying geology at Stanford; she was the first woman to graduate from the school with a geology degree. They spent their early married life in China, where Hoover was working as a consulting engineer for the Chinese government, until the Boxer Rebellion forced them to flee the country. Lou Hoover was the first presidential wife to drive her own car, give a radio address, and set out a policy agenda for herself. She also, as the Post notes, had an interest in photography. 

The footage Lou shot shows a different side of President Hoover. He’s shown on the White House lawn, playing a version of “bull in the ring” with a six-pound medicine ball, a variation that would come to be known as “Hooverball.” The footage also shows the president on a deep-sea fishing trip and the first couple’s dogs, Weegie and Pat, and their grandchildren.

The most notable part of the film, though, may be the shots of the White House itself, which looks lush and pleasant—the perfect setting for a energizing game of Hooverball.