On January 10, 2012, the National Air and Space Museum Archives Department officially opened its new reading room at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center to public researchers. We welcomed six researchers that day, including two who had scheduled a trip from Germany to coincide with our grand opening.
The opening was the culmination of a massive move that took place during the fall of 2011, when the Archives Department consolidated the majority of its collections from the Museum in Washington, DC, and the Paul E. Garber Facility in Suitland, Maryland. In only a month, the Archives Department transferred almost 17,000 containers, 18,000 reels of microfilm, 13,000 rolls of motion picture film, and 7,000 videos.
In the past year, more than 270 researchers have visited the new reading room to make use of our collections. They’ve pursued all manners of research, including our Captured German and Japanese Air Technical Documents Collection, our in-house photo database,and the numerous personal papers and corporate records collections that we hold.
Sometimes researchers find items in our collections that we don’t even know we have. This fall, one of our researchers came across a fun photograph of Orville Wright. According to the documentation that accompanied the photograph, Orville often went out to fly in business clothes and shoes, whereas the mechanics wore hip boots. This test flight of a flying boat had landed in Ohio’s Miami River, so a mechanic carried Orville piggyback-style and put him in the plane so he wouldn’t get his feet wet.
In June, at least 80 visitors attended our Open House at Become a Pilot Day. This was a great opportunity to check out some of our more colorful collections, including the Ruth Law Scrapbook and selected documents and photographs from the Dino Brugioni Collection.
Ruth Law was the first woman to loop the loop, the first person to fly a plane at night, and a one-time holder of the Chicago to New York aerial speed record. Law volunteered to fly for the United States during World War I, but was turned down. She did, however, fly recruiting tours for the military during the war, earning the right to wear the uniform of a noncommissioned Army officer.
Dino Brugioni is the former Chief of Information at the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC). During his 35 year career, Brugioni helped establish imagery intelligence as a national asset to solve intelligence problems. His aerial reconnaissance work played a major role in providing intelligence throughout the Cold War. A portion of his collection deals with his work identifying and analyzing missile sites during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
And that’s just a year of activity in the public reading room. Behind the scenes, archivists are hard at work acquiring and processing new collections, filling order requests, and answering reference questions from all over the world.
If you’re in the DC metro area and have a research interest in air and space history, consider making an appointment to visit the Archives. Although we hold large film and microfilm collections, the majority of our records are paper. So in our case, isn’t it fitting that the traditional representation of a first anniversary is paper?
Elizabeth C. Borja is a reference services archivist in the National Air and Space Museum’s Archives Department.