iArchives Inc. was already making digital images of documents for businesses, universities and other organizations when it decided to put those skills to use on a subscriber Web site that would showcase the nation's trove of historical documents.
While copies of famous documents like the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence have been circulating for more than 200 years, footnote.com gives subscribers a chance to see more rare pieces of history.
Among the Web site's current collection are investigative and trial documents from the assassination of President Lincoln as well Indian treaties from the 1720s.
Footnote.com allows people to post their own historical documents and work with collaborators.
"We allow people to tag and index their own documents and share it," said Russell Wilding, the 50-year-old chief executive of iArchives. "We want to be America's shoe box."
The Web site was launched Jan. 10 and is adding documents daily. Starting with the most significant ones from the National Archives, it already has amassed some 7 million pages of documents.
Footnote.com is the only Web site wholly devoted to making digital images of American historical documents, said Susan Cooper, a spokeswoman for the U.S. National Archives.
The National Archives holds 9 billion pages of documents, some still classified, and it has no money to turn them into digital images, so it readily agreed to a partnership with footenote.com, she said.
iArchives is buying copies of microfilms of documents and turning them into digital images. In return, the National Archives, and patrons who go there, get free access to footnote.com.
Others pay up to $99 a year, and footnote.com has attracted about 10,000 subscribers so far, Wilding said.
Under the partnership, footnote's images will be available for anyone to see on National Archives' Web site five years after the company first makes use of them.
"We think it's a very good deal for the American people," Cooper said.
The Web site just added documents from the Lincoln assassination. It also contains papers from the FBI's predecessor, the Bureau of Investigation, including a file on publisher William Randolph Hearst's alleged ties to Mexican rebels.
The Web site's entire collection includes photographs, journals, letters, birth certificates, christening records and newspaper articles.
"We feel there is a tremendous demand for people to access original source documents and be able to share and collaborate and communicate," Wilding said.