The Bentley Historical Library will be closed November 23, 24, & 25 in observance of Thanksgiving

Magazine

All the News That’s Fit to Preserve

The Bentley is the new home for journalistic history from the Detroit News

by Melissa Hernandez Duran and Alexa Hagan

For the Detroit News to run its stories in the 1870s, the process required a large printing department, specialized equipment, rolls of paper delivered by horse-drawn carriages, and cameras with glass plate negatives to produce a front-page picture.

From the 1850s to the 1920s, glass plates were the primary medium to capture photographic images. The complex process involved a photographer preparing a thin glass sheet with a coating that would react when exposed to light. Depending on the type of coating, some negatives would have to be developed on-site within minutes of exposure.

Approximately 400 glass plate negatives documenting the history and work of the Detroit News through the late 19th century and early 20th century were recently accessioned by the Bentley Historical Library. Among the negatives are depictions of day-to-day work at the newspaper, shots of the Detroit News buildings designed by Albert Kahn, and the Detroit News’s very own radio station, 8MK, founded in 1920, which is still running today as WWJ.

The glass plates are only a portion of a larger and richer collection from the News at the Bentley that contains scrapbooks, a small number of photographic prints, and film negatives. These 128 linear feet of materials document one of the most prominent news institutions in Michigan.

Currently, each of the negatives is being cleaned before it is rehoused from its original acidic envelope into archival-quality sleeves and boxes. This process will prepare the negatives for digitization and will allow for increased access to these historic images online.