The Archives of the National Air and Space Museum holds two million images in various photographic formats, covering the breadth and depth of the history of aviation and space flight. One of the strengths of our collection is commercial aviation photography, and two of our most sought-out photographic collections are the Rudy Arnold Photo Collection (finding aid), consisting of commercial aviation photographs from the 1920s -1950s, and the Hans Groenhoff Photographic Collection (finding aid), consisting of commercial aviation photographs from the 1930s -1970s.
The Archives is delighted to announce that last month we received another collection of a great American aviation photographer, Howard Levy. Howard Levy (1921-2010) was one of the nation’s outstanding aviation photographers. Levy took his first airplane photograph at Floyd Bennett Field in 1936 and sold his first aviation photograph in 1937. His work spanned from 1936 until his last photo shoot in May of 2009. He photographed aircraft at factories, airports, museums and air shows, including the Paris Air Show, which he attended for 30 years. Levy’s work appeared in dozens of publications, including, Smithsonian, Air Progress, AOPA Pilot, Kitplanes, Look, Sport Pilot and Air & Space. Levy was also published in many European flight magazines. In 2003 he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the International Symposium of Photographers.
We were extremely pleased when Mr. Levy’s family contacted us and offered his material to the national collection, and we immediately took steps to bring in the collection. First, we took a trip to survey the collection in New Jersey. Based on the survey, we estimated that the collection consisted of 250 cubic feet, which would have been the biggest collection we have brought into the Archives in over 20 years! Even though the collection is huge, we knew the material was extraordinary and that the collection would be a valuable resource for our curators and public researchers.
After the Museum’s Collection Committee enthusiastically approved the acquisition, the Archives made plans to travel again to New Jersey to transfer the collection. A team of four archivists spent four long days sorting and carefully packing the collection into boxes. As the material was packed, a basic listing of what was placed in each box was created. The boxes were then loaded into the Museum’s box truck for transfer.
Instead of the estimated 250 cubic feet, we ultimately found the collection to be closer to 200 cubic feet of material after it was packed. The collection consists mostly of Mr. Levy’s photographic work, including black and white negatives, prints, color transparencies, and 35mm slides. The collection also includes articles written by Levy and the reference material he gathered to write those stories.
The collection is currently housed at the Archives Division at the Paul E. Garber Facility in Suitland, Maryland, but will soon be moved into the Archives’ new facility at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. We are proud to house this valuable collection, and look forward to making it available to aviation researchers around the world.
To see examples of Mr. Levy’s photography, please see Air & Space’s tribute article on Mr. Levy.
Patricia L. Williams is a supervisory and acquisition archivist at the National Air and Space Museum.