THE PAUL DUNCAN FILM COLLECTION, 1937-1941
(.5 cubic feet: .5, 1 DB)
by: Franklin A. Robinson, Jr., January 2005
Between 1937 and 1941, amateur film maker, Paul Jasper Duncan (1899-1986), documented non-mechanized farming practices in the eastern Pennsylvania region where he had grown up. Duncan was born in Meadville, Pennsylvania on March 21, 1899. He was the son of Raymond and Nellie Thayer Duncan. Duncan’s maternal grandfather, Charles F. Thayer (1848-1933), lived in nearby Atlantic next to the W. Clark McMillen farm. In 1901, Myrna K. Thayer, one of Duncan’s maternal aunts, married W. Clark McMillen. Clark McMillen was a full-time farmer. About 1918, Raymond Duncan and his family moved to Atlantic and lived in the Thayer home next door to the McMillen farm. During his youth, Duncan worked on the McMillen farm when labor was needed and when he needed to earn some money but he never had any interest in becoming a farmer. Duncan graduated from Meadville High School in 1919.
Duncan attended Pennsylvania State University for a year studying mechanical engineering. He returned to Meadville taking a job as a teacher for manual training (shop, woodworking, etc.). He married Alice Driver but within a month she died of “milk fever”. Duncan returned to Penn State completing one more year toward a degree before moving to Chicago in the fall of 1922. He married Gertrude Glover in 1924 and in the fall of 1938 they moved to Des Plaines, Illinois. They had two children: Margaret (b. 1929) and James (b. 1932). Duncan worked as a mechanical design engineer for the Universal Oil Company and the Ludlow Typograph Company.
In 1937, Duncan purchased an 8mm movie camera. He had an interest in still photography and this interest extended to motion pictures. During summer family trips to Atlantic in 1937, 1939 and 1941 Duncan documented three farming practices on the McMillen farm: making hay (1937), threshing wheat (1941), and cradling and flailing (1941). During this time the farm was being worked by McMillen and his son-in-law Roy Ferrin (d. 1945). With the exception of cradling and flailing, the farm work was not staged and coincided with the Duncan family visits to Atlantic. At the time that Duncan filmed cradling and flailing the wheat had been cut, so McMillen is seen cutting and binding sheaves of oats instead. In addition to McMillen, Ferrin and Duncan’s nephew Neil Duncan are seen in the films.
After retiring from the Ludlow Typographic Company in 1968, Duncan and his wife moved to Dos Cabezas, Cochise County, Arizona. He died in 1986.
Scope and Content
Filmed entirely on location at the W. Clark McMillen Farm in Atlantic, Pennsylvania, the Paul Duncan Film Collection documents three types of now obsolete farming practices using draft horses and manual labor: making hay (1937), threshing wheat (1939), and cradling & flailing (1941). The film is 8mm, black and white and color. Edge codes date from 1926, 1932, and 1934-35.
Donated to the Archives Center, NMAH, Smithsonian by James T. Duncan, son of Paul J. Duncan, in November 2002.
#475 The Robinson-Via Family Papers, 1845-2000
#481 The William C. Kost Farm Records, 1939-1989
There are no restrictions.
OF = Original Film RV = Reference Video. MV = Master Video.