Louis R. Purnell Interviews,
1993-1994

Summary
Collection ID:
Record Unit 9578
Creators:
Purnell, Louis R., interviewee
Dates:
1993-1994
Languages:
English
Physical Description:
13 audiotapes (reference copies).
Repository:
Smithsonian Institution Archives

Introduction
Introduction
The Smithsonian Institution Archives began its Oral History Program in 1973. The purpose of the program is to supplement the written documentation of the Archives' record and manuscript collections with an Oral History Collection, focusing on the history of the Institution, research by its scholars, and contributions of its staff. Program staff conduct interviews with current and retired Smithsonian staff and others who have made significant contributions to the Institution. There are also interviews conducted by researchers or students on topics related to the history of the Smithsonian or the holdings of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.
Louis R. Purnell was interviewed for the Oral History Collection because of his long career at the Institution, including fifteen years as Curator of Astronautics at the National Air and Space Museum, and his pioneering work as an African American professional.

Descriptive Entry
Descriptive Entry
Purnell was interviewed in seven sessions between December 1993 and February 1994 by Terrica M. Gibson, an Intern with the Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives. The interviews cover his childhood in Wilmington, Delaware, and Cape May, New Jersey; his education, love of flying, service during World War II; reminiscences of prominent Army Air Corps personnel, including General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.; careers with the Office of the Quartermaster General, U.S. Book Exchange, NMNH and NASM; the circumstances surrounding the first lunar landing; the move of NASM from the Arts & Industries (A&I) Building; relationship with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); and reminiscences of colleagues including G. Arthur Cooper, S. Paul Johnston, and Michael Collins.
This collection is comprised of approximately 12 hours of recordings and 291 pages of transcript. In total, this collection includes 24 original 7" reels, 24 preservation digital .wav files, 13 reference copy audio cassette tapes, and 24 reference copy digital .mp3 files.

Historical Note
Historical Note
Louis R. Purnell (1920-2001), was born on 5 April 1920 in Snow Hill, Maryland. He spent his youth in Delaware and Cape May, New Jersey. While beginning his undergraduate degree at Lincoln University, in Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, he was able to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot when the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) was instituted on campus. In 1942, he enlisted and was accepted into the seventh class of African American Army Air Force aviation cadets stationed at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Tuskegee, Alabama [the Tuskegee Airmen]. He joined the all-Black 99th Fighter Squadron in 1943. During World War II, he completed two tours of duty in North Africa and southern Italy with the 99th, and later the 332nd Fighter Group. He was presented the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal with Eight Oak Leaf Clusters.
After his return to the United States, Purnell returned to Lincoln University and completed a B.A. in Psychology. He took a position as a Speech Therapist at the Lena J. Sklar School in Germantown, Pennsylvania. He eventually moved to Washington, D.C., and held positions at the Office of the Quartermaster General and the United States Book Exchange at the Library of Congress. Purnell worked in a variety of jobs at the Smithsonian, eventually joining the Division of Invertebrate Paleontology and Paleobotany in the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in 1961. In 1968, he moved to the Department of Astronautics of the National Air and Space Museum (NASM). During his career in the Astronautics Department (renamed the Department of Space Science and Exploration in 1980), he progressed through the ranks from Museum Specialist to Curator, a position he held until his retirement in January 1985.

Notes
Oral Histories

Using the Collection
Prefered Citation
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 9578, Louis R. Purnell Interviews
Use Restriction
Restricted.

Keywords
Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Purnell, Louis R. Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Cooper, G. Arthur (Gustav Arthur), 1902-2000 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Johnston, S. Paul (Samuel Paul), 1899- Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Collins, Michael Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Davis, Benjamin O., Jr., 1912- Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Gibson, Terrica M., interviewer Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
National Air and Space Museum (U.S.) Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Division of Invertebrate Paleontology and Paleobotany (NMNH) Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Arts and Industries Building Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Lincoln University (Pa.) Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Civilian Pilot Training Program Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
United States. Army Air Forces. Fighter Group, 332nd Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Army Air Corps Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Tuskegee Airmen Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
United States. Army Air Forces. Fighter Squadron, 99th Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Office of Quartermaster General Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
United States Book Exchange Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
National Aeronautics and Space Administration Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Department of Astronautics (NASM). Department of Space Science and Exploration (NASM) Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
National Museum of Natural History (U.S.) Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
World War, 1939-1945 Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
African American history Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
History of science and technology Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Paleontology Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Aeronautics Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Military history Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Museum curators -- United States -- Interviews Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Interviews Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Audiotapes Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Oral history Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
Smithsonian Institution Archives
Washington, D.C.
Contact us at osiaref@si.edu