Before Bernie Sanders Made History, He Sold It

logoaphs 0001Since Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination, UVM Special Collections librarians have become much better acquainted with the diverse resources in our Vermont research collection that document Sanders’ life and political career. After receiving an inquiry about his educational filmstrip business, we turned to our reference files, where clippings, brochures and other ephemera frequently provide information about obscure topics.

We searched for the name of the company, the American People’s Historical Society, and found a folder where a conscientious predecessor had saved four promotional brochures sent to the library between 1978 and 1980.  The brochures provide details about the nonprofit’s goals, products, and staff.

aphsvt 0001Two of the brochures advertise film strips about Vermont history. The organization, originally known as Green Mountain Media, produced a series of six Vermont history filmstrips in 1977 for students in grade 6 and up. A 1978 brochure advertised three additional film strips, presented as “Great Events and People in Vermont History, Part II.” A second 1978 offering promoted a version of the original six filmstrips for third through fifth graders.

The topics are standard fare. The original series covered Ethan Allen, the Battle of Bennington, Vermont and the Civil War, Vermont statesmen, Calvin Coolidge, and the 1927 flood. The second series looked at the lives of Vermont-born President Chester A. Arthur, newspaperman Horace Greeley, Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley, women who played important roles in the state’s past, Champlain “discovering” Vermont, the St. Albans Raid, and Admiral Dewey’s victory in the Philippines.

aphsmap 0001The third brochure indicates that the organization expanded its scope to other New England states, adding film strips for Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Addressing the New England educators who might purchase and use the films, director Bernard Sanders explained, “It is our belief that state and regional history has too long been neglected by the audio-visual industry, and we are happy to begin the process of rectifying that situation. We believe that students have the right to learn about the state and region in which they are living.”

The six products for Massachusetts featured Thoreau, U.S. presidents from Massachusetts, the abolition movement, maritime history, John Quincy Adams and the Amistad slave ship, and four important Massachusetts women. The three New Hampshire filmstrips profiled John Stark and five great leaders from New Hampshire and examined New Hampshire’s role in the Civil War.

The Vermont and New England brochures included a coupon with details about ordering the film strips. The society followed a fairly conventional pricing structure. It offered a 10-day free trial, with discounts for bulk purchases. Individual film strips  could be purchased for $18.50. A 10% discount set the price for six strips at $99.90.  A bundle of all 15 Vermont film strips was discounted to $155.40, while a set of 15 New England films was available for $225.00.

The fourth brochure marks a new direction for the society. Debs, about trade unionist, socialist and presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs, was issued as a color videocassette. In the brochure’s “Dear Educator” section, Sanders announced that Debs was the first documentary in a new series called “The Other Side of American History,” which would “deal with people and ideas that the major profit oriented manufacturers of audio-visual material will not cover because of economic and political reasons.”

In his memoir, Outsider in the House, Bernie Sanders remembers that the educational filmstrip business was reasonably successful and “a lot of fun.” It ended when he turned his attention back to the political arena and won the 1981 mayoral election in Burlington, Vermont.

Contributed by Prudence Doherty,
Public Services Librarian



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