hand hold 35mm film


Microfilm scanning services are vital in the 21st century. For much of the 20th century, businesses, libraries, banks, and hospitals used microfilm to store large amounts of records. River City Data can help you convert your business’s stash with their microfilm to digital image services.

Before you convert your microfilm, you may be interested to know its history. Where does microfilm originate? What is it made of, and when was it invented?

microfilm bobbin

What is Microfilm?

You or your business, agency, or organization might have a lot of microfilm to convert, but technology changes quickly. You may have never seen microfilm before, or you may wonder what precisely microfilm is.

The answer lies in the two words that make up the name: micro and film. Microfilm is tiny film negatives, around 1/25th of a document’s original size. Specialized equipment allows users to blow up the document on the film negative to a large scale for viewing. 

A Microhistory of Microfilm

Microfilm is like cloud computing’s great-grandfather. Before the cloud, businesses and organizations needed a way to store all their records. Traditional paper filing became too cumbersome for entities that needed to save a lot of information.


John Benjamin Dancer invented microfilm in Liverpool, England, in 1839. His family ran an optical shop as the science of daguerreotype photography was emerging. Luckily for history, Dancer was a dabbler who developed a way to shrink images onto film negatives.

Dancer also invented the first way to blow up small images to larger sizes. He figured out a way to make a six-inch daguerreotype of a flea.

René Dagron patented improved, standardized microfilm technology in France in 1859. The timing of this development proved fortunate. The Franco-Prussian War started a few years later in 1870, and folks needed to send information quickly and imperceptibly. 

Obviously, the internet and telephones did not yet exist. The first permanent transatlantic telegraph cable system was only developed a few years earlier in 1866. To get information in and out of Paris, the military dropped carrier pigeons transporting information out of hot air balloons.

Dagron pitched microfilm to the French government as a way to quickly transmit a lot of military information. He proposed that the military attach microfilm documents to the carrier pigeons. The carrier pigeons faced harrowing danger to bring the microfilm into Paris once the Prussians figured out the ruse.


Microfilm did not enjoy widespread use until the early 20th century. In 1906 a pair of Belgians- Goldschmidt and Otlet, wrote an essay arguing libraries could save space by using microfilm. 

After Goldschmidt and Otlet gave a demonstration at the 1913 meeting of the American Library Institute, the practice caught on. Within the next couple of decades, microfilm use was widespread among libraries, even the New York Times and Harvard.

man studying microfilm

Microfilming initiatives continue into the present day.

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) still funds microfilming projects. In 1980 the NEH began supporting microfilming of old books whose information was more important than their physical form. This initiative was the Brittle Books Program.

Microfilm vs. Microfiche: What’s the Difference?

Many of us are familiar with microfiche from movies. A hero or heroine in a film has to solve some mystery and goes through old newspapers to find answers. You know the scene: the protagonist labors silently in a dark room. To set the mood, the only light comes from the machine illuminating the concentration on his face.

Is microfiche separate from microfilm? People may be surprised to learn that microfiche is microfilm. The difference is one of format.

Microfilm is a roll of film, which you may be familiar with from traditional cameras and photography. All microfiche is, in essence, is flat microfilm. You may find microfilm rolls in cassettes, cartridges, or reels.

Microfiche can contain fewer documents than microfilm. Their flatness, however, makes them easier to store. 

Now That I Understand More About Microfilm, How Should I Store It?

While microfilm was the most convenient form of document storage for decades, technology has clearly outpaced it. If you want to keep the documents stored on your microfilm but free up space, you need microfilm scanning services.

It is possible to physically preserve microfilm and microfiche. Polyester-based (as opposed to cellulose-based) film correctly stored can last up to 500 years. Correct storage for film means low-humidity, low (but not too low) temperatures can preserve your microfilm and microfiche.

Low-humidity usually means less than 50 percent humidity, and low-temperature is around 70 degrees or lower. Fortunately, microfilm has been polyester-based since the 1970s.

If You Prefer Microfilm Scanning Services to Physical Storage

Data exchange concept between hands of a woman in background

While there are certainly instances where businesses or organizations may still want to physically house microfilm, yours may not. If you can’t or won’t deal with the demands of proper microfilm storage, you need microfilm scanning services. Even if you want to maintain your microfilm physically, digital versions back them up in case of an emergency.

Microfilm scanning services let you preserve the information of the past in an up-to-date format. You need an adaptable scanning service that will allow your record storage to change with the technology of the times.

Currently, the two most widespread digital formats for digitally-scanned documents are PDF and tagged file format (Tiff). The National Archives and Records Administration of the United States endorses Tiff 6 as the standard digital document format. PDFs are gaining acceptance within the record storage space, however.

River City Data for Your Microfilm Scanning Needs

If you are ready to digitize your microfilm, River City Data’s Microfilm to Digital Images service can help. River City Data works with clients to develop a tailored approach to their business or organizational record-storage needs. 

Our user-friendly scanning service creates indexed, searchable digital versions of your old records. We can also preserve old photographs that may be valuable to your organization, or to you personally.

Contact River City Data to begin the process of long-term, secure record preservation. Reach out to our qualified team with your microfilm scanning questions or for information on pricing.