Online archives showcase iconic moments in history

Song, Jean

Self-confessed news junkie Alwyn Lindsey is surrounded by the past, and whenever he needs a fix, he just reaches for a newsreel and pushes play on his old Steenbeck machine.

They're films that capture some of the most explosive events of the last 120 years, reports CBS News correspondent Charlie D'Agata.

But now, you don't need an old tape machine to see them. They're all available on YouTube.

Lindsey is the director of International Archives at The Associated Press. They've opened up their vast film stock along with British Movietone. The archive contains all those iconic global news events and more.

Like the Hindenburg disaster of 1937:

The bombing of Pearl Harbor:

John F. Kennedy's famous address in Berlin just months before his assassination:

This is just a fraction of the archive that includes 550,000 clips, a million minutes, off the shelf and online.

They remind us that the events of the past often mirror those of the present.

They also reveal the tone of the times, which after the horrors of World War II, was frequently triumphant.

But then there are the lesser-known events, such as in the late 1950s when a U.S. Air Force jet accidentally dropped an atom bomb -- thankfully, not primed -- on South Carolina:

"It warranted 29 seconds of news coverage at the time. Now imagine, Charlie, if that happened today? What would CBS News do with that story? Twenty-nine seconds? I don't think so," Lindsey said to D'Agata.

But things were different back then. You could go prospecting for uranium in Africa or take your dog for a walk without leaving the house:

"If there's one thing that runs through re-living an archive like this, it's a constant surprise. You always see things that take you unawares," Lindsey said.

The motivation for the archive was at first driven by business considerations, Lindsey said, "but actually we're very pleased with the by-product of that, which is the idea that we can expose it to everyone."

And there's a lot to expose, not least in the famous figures that populate the archive, from Mother Teresa, Marilyn Monroe to Albert Einstein, and people like Adolf Hitler who created human tragedy to Muhammad Ali who celebrated human triumph.