Smithsonian Institution Archives

Correspondence, 1965-1986

Collection ID:
National Air and Space Museum. Department of Aeronautics
Physical Description:
36.5 cu. ft. (73 document boxes)
Smithsonian Institution Archives

Descriptive Entry
Descriptive Entry
These records document the history of the Department of Aeronautics from 1966-1986, a period marked by intensive planning for the new museum, its construction and opening in July 1976, and the emergence of the National Air and Space Museum as a large and important bureau of the Smithsonian and the most visited museum in the world.
At the beginning of this period, departmental correspondence with any person or group outside the Institution was maintained in one file on a year-by-year basis. Later, it was separated into correspondence with persons, with other museums, with organizations and corporations, and with the military. In this collection, all correspondence dated 1966-1976 has been combined into one series. Correspondence dated 1977-1986 is separated into four series, divided as above, arranged alphabetically. Internal memoranda are arranged chronologically. Also included in the collection are files concerning the Milestones of Flight First Day Cover Series, 1972-1981; a file of correspondence with artists and modelers, 1966-1978; and a few miscellaneous subject files.
Although a large portion of this correspondence consists of fairly routine requests for information from the public, there is also much concerning specimens and serious aviation research. The latter reflects the growing commitment of the Aeronautics staff to research. The records document some on-going controversies of aeronautical history, such as that regarding Amelia Earhart's last voyage and, more importantly, the claims that Gustav Whitehead flew before the Wright Brothers.
The internal memoranda are a particularly rich source of information on the day-to-day operations of the Department. They concern everything from yearly goals and long-range projects to the small details of exhibits upkeep. The planning for the new building is evident even in 1966, and it remains a central focus, gathering momentum. The memoranda provide documentation of the task of planning so many galleries at the same time, coordinating the move, and achieving the opening - on schedule.
For earliest records of the National Air Museum, researchers should consult Record Unit 162. Other records documenting the time covered in this collection include those of the Office of the Director, Record Units 306 and 338; the Department of Astronautics (later Space Science and Exploration, and Space History), Record Units 347, 348, and 398; and the Contractors' Files, Record Unit 358.

Historical Note
Historical Note
In July 1966 President Lyndon Johnson signed into law a bill authorizing construction of a new building for the newly-renamed National Air and Space Museum (NASM). It had been twenty years since the National Air Museum was established, also by law, in 1946. During that period the growing collection had been exhibited partly in the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries Building and partly in a hangar, known since World War I as the Aircraft Building, in the south yard of the Smithsonian Castle. Additional aircraft and reference materials were in storage at Silver Hill, Maryland. S. Paul Johnston, who became Director of the Museum in 1964, initiated a Master Plan in 1965 which called for reorganization and improvement at Silver Hill, improvement of exhibitions on the Mall, and planning for the new building.
There had been a Section of Aeronautics under the old administrative hierarchy since 1933. Paul E. Garber, who had joined the staff of the Institution in 1919, had risen to Assistant Curator of Aeronautics. By 1966, Garber's title was Assistant Director (Education and Information), and Aeronautics was divided into three parts: Flight Craft, Flight Materiel, and Flight Propulsion, headed by curators Louis S. Casey, Kenneth E. Newland, and Robert B. Meyer, respectively. Garber officially retired in 1969 but remained as Historian Emeritus and Ramsey Research Associate into the 1990s. With Garber's retirement, Casey became Acting Assistant Director, while Frank A. Taylor succeeded Johnston, becoming Acting Director in 1970.
Meanwhile, the Apollo 11 voyage to the moon of 1969 helped fuel the desire for building the new Air and Space Museum. Ex-astronaut Michael Collins was named Director in 1971, a ground-breaking ceremony was held in November 1972, and the entire staff began detailed preparations for an expected opening during the 1976 Bicentennial.
The plans for the new museum called for twenty-three exhibit halls, many of which were related to aeronautics, making aircraft restoration and exhibit preparation the major concerns of this period.
In 1975 the staff moved into the new building and completed installation of the exhibits in time for the July 1, 1976 opening.
The late 1970s and the early 1980s were a period of new emphasis on historical and scientific research. The Charles A. Lindbergh Chair of Aerospace History was established in 1977, and Charles Harvard Gibbs-Smith, Keeper Emeritus of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, became the first occupant. An international fellowship was established, along with the Verville Fellowship. Various symposia on figures such as Lindbergh, the Wright Brothers, and Amelia Earhart were held, and the General Electric Lecture Series began. In 1980 the department held a seminar on Forty Years of Jet Aviation. The Aeronautics Department initiated a new aviation book series, Famous Aircraft of the National Air and Space Museum, and plans were made to issue a bibliography called a Guide to Aerospace History Sources. In 1986 NASM announced the establishment of the National Air and Space Archives, a national center for research in aerospace history.
Donald S. Lopez was named Assistant Director (Aeronautics) in 1972. In 1980 his title was changed to Chairman, Aeronautics Department. Paul Garber had been named Historian Emeritus. By the late 1970s, the department included Curators Walter J. Boyne, Louis S. Casey, Robert B. Meyer, Jr., Robert C. Mikesh, Claudia M. Oakes, Edmund T. Wooldridge, and C. Glen Sweeting. In 1981 curators Tom D. Crouch and Von D. Hardesty joined the aeronautics staff, and Boyne became Assistant Director of the Museum, now led by Noel Hinners. In 1982 Boyne became Acting Director and then Director of the Museum in 1983, with Donald S. Lopez becoming Deputy Director, and Edmund T. Wooldridge, Jr., Chairman of the Aeronautics Department. Wooldridge served as Chairman of the Department, 1983-1986.

Finding aid prepared by Smithsonian Institution Archives

Using the Collection
Prefered Citation
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 330, National Air and Space Museum. Department of Aeronautics, Correspondence

More Information
SI Records

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Garber, Paul Edward, 1899-1992 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Casey, Louis S. Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Lopez, Donald S., 1923-2008 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Newland, Kenneth E. Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Meyer, Robert B. Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Wooldridge, E. T. Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Milestones of Flight (Exhibition) (1976-2016: Washington, D.C.) Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Aeronautical museums Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Museum curators Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Museum exhibits Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Aeronautics -- History Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

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