UW Today

August 31, 2012

Lost and Found Films: Taking a survey in 1956

News and Information

The latest installment of Lost and Found Films is about an apparent door to door survey that also interrupted a farmer’s cow-milking session. Maybe you can figure out what’s going on in this vintage non-sequitur.

Lost and Found Films is an occasional UW Today series where readers help identify and explain historic bits of film from the 1930s through the 1970s unearthed from the UW Audio Visual Materials Library by film archivist Hannah Palin. They range from shadowy black and white snippets like this week’s entry to thoughtfully produced color home-movie style productions.

Palin writes that this silent, black and white oddity just under four minutes long was found in a film can labeled “Cooking Scenes” but appears instead to be a training film for census or survey takers. We see a woman at a switchboard, then three women talking over a transparent map, perhaps plotting out the survey route. Scenes follow of women walking up to doors, and of two women on a couch, one sewing as she answers the other’s questions.

A man walks through a trailer park and up some stairs — and then we meet a cow, and the farmer who commences milking her. A woman stops by to ask questions but the farmer can’t hear over the radio, so she turns it down and they begin talking. The film then cuts to scenes of computer cards being sorted into slots and a woman — perhaps the same census taker as before — arranging punch cards and loading them into an early computer.

Palin is interested in learning whether this was indeed a census or survey, and if so, what kind. Did it take place in Seattle or elsewhere? Anyone have an idea what this project might have been about?

If you have any utterances to make by way of explanation — some bovine inspiration? — add them below in the comments section.