Scope and Contents note
The Willy Ley Collection reflects Ley's broad, restless curiosity about the world around him. However, the main thrust of this material emphasizes his intense interest in the aerospace field. Ley's significant contributions as a great proponent, theorist and historian of rocketry and space travel are quite evident in this collection.
For the most part, the collection encompasses the years Ley spent in the U.S., roughly, from the mid 1930s to his death in 1969. Accordingly, very little pertaining to Ley's time in the VfR is found here. This wide array of materials was sold to the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum (NASM) by Ley's widow, Olga, in 1970.(1) Later that year, NASM personnel traveled to Ley's home in New York to transfer this collection to the museum. They were careful to maintain the overall order of the collection which reflects its original organizational structure, as well as the research techniques and thinking processes of Ley himself.
The collection of materials listed in the finding aid is arranged into four series. The first series is composed of personal materials that include correspondence, book and article contract materials, galley proofs, manuscript and article drafts, notes, articles, lecture invitations and brochures, photographs, drawings, travel and war-time memorabilia, newspaper and press clippings, book reviews, personal bills and receipts, business cards, children's' report cards and Christmas cards. The materials of this series range in date from the early 1930s to 1969. Except for moving this series to the beginning of the collection, original order was maintained. Additionally, original folder titles were retained (as they were for the rest of the collection). Correspondence, book/article contracts materials, research notes, articles, newspaper and press clippings and miscellaneous personal materials are arranged chronologically while the manuscript drafts, galley proofs and book reviews are organized alphabetically by title.
The second series comprises the bulk --about two-thirds, of the Willy Ley Collection. This series, the aerospace subject files, ranges in date from the late 1800s to 1969, and covers the following topics: biography (Ley and others), aviation, inventions, astronomy, space travel, rockets, artificial satellites, manned space flight, ground support and rocket test centers. The folders include correspondence, photographs, notes, reports, brochures, pamphlets, magazines, articles and newspaper clippings. Original order was maintained for this series. The materials are organized by subject.
The third series consists of printed materials. This series ranges in date from the early 1950s to 1970 and includes various publications (newsletters, pamphlets, journals, reports, directories, magazines and books). Also included are article and newspaper clippings. Ley organized the newsletters by title and then chronologically.
The fourth and final series of this collection contains non-aerospace subject files. Ley's certificates, citations and a scrapbook are found in this series. The certificates and citations are for Ley's civic and professional achievements. The scrapbook contains miscellaneous newspaper clippings regarding rocketry and space travel (in English and German) from the 1930s and 1940s. However, this series, ranging in date from the early 1900s to 1969, mainly encompasses materials not directly related to aviation, rocketry or space travel. Original order was maintained for this series. The materials are organized by subject.
The researcher should note that all the folders (except for those of Series 4) are numbered. This numbering system reflects an effort by NASM's Department of Space History in 1970 to create a rough catalog of the Willy Ley Collection as it was being moved to the museum. Though now obsolete as an index, these penciled numbers were retained and are written in the upper right corner of the folders.
Endnotes: 1. That same year, Mrs. Ley also sold her husband's collection of books and journals to the University of Alabama at Huntsville. Currently, it is known as the Willy Ley Memorial Collection and resides at the University's library. Wernher von Braun and NASA Saturn launch vehicle program manager Arthur Rudolph participated in the dedication ceremony in 1971.