In 1941, as America entered World War II, there were 1,000 televisions in use in the USA, Hollywood was only beginning to experiment with color film, and most Americans received their news through the radio. During the war, film was used by the military, not for distribution to the public, but to document the war effort for military purposes. Realistic color added a new dimension to imagery, one that proved invaluable to the United States government.
The federal government seized all color film in the U.S. for the war effort. War-related activities both abroad and at home were documented in color, including war production and the building of the Alaska railroad. The government also used color film to document medical procedures and new warfare techniques. Some military cameramen focused their cameras on their experiences abroad and captured peaceful moments unrelated to the war effort, such as a bicycle trip through the countryside of England.
While the European campaign was almost completely shot in black and white, the Marines exclusively used color film. The campaign in the Pacific was the most heavily documented during the war. Color films such as The Battle of Midway were distributed to solicit public support of the war effort and dramatically increased the purchase of war bonds. Color was by no means standard or familiar to the American audience. Most films and newsreels that were shot in color were not distributed in color; they were transferred to black-and-white stock or archived by the military.
It wasn't until the late 1970's that the National Archives in Washington, D.C. received film holdings from World War II. For many reasons, color film remained undiscovered; poor record-keeping, the assumption that most film originals were in black and white and the time required by researchers to find the color stock kept the public from seeing color film from World War II.