First held in 1920 at Mitchel Field outside of New York City, the National Air Races were an annual, week-long event including formation flying, parachute drops, aerobatic displays, and closed-circuit and cross-country air races. Through the 1920s, the location of the Races moved to a different American city each year, occurring at Cleveland, Ohio, for the first time in 1929. In the 1930s, the Races settled almost permanently at Cleveland Municipal Airport (later known as Cleveland Hopkins International Airport), with only the 1930, 1933, and 1936 races held in Los Angeles, California. The Races were suspended from 1940 to 1945 due to World War II, but resumed at Cleveland in 1946, with the post-war contestants now including many military surplus aircraft. The National Air Races, meant to be the high point of the air racing year, included privately sponsored races to both foster the development of aircraft and raise the profile of the sponsors. The 1948 Races (held September 4-6, 1948) and 1949 Races (held September 3-5, 1949) featured trophy races sponsored by Ohio companies Bendix Corporation, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, Standard Oil of Ohio (Sohio), and the local Cleveland companies Tinnerman Products (makers of fasteners used in aircraft construction) and Thompson Products (makers of high-performance valves for both aircraft and automobile racing engines). High-speed aircraft races certainly helped draw huge crowds to the airport to see the action, but tragically, on September 5, 1949, Bill Odom, piloting the modified North American P-51C Mustang "Beguine" in that day's Thompson Trophy Race, crashed into a house in the Cleveland suburb of Berea, Ohio, killing himself and a woman and child. Berea and other municipalities in the area quickly passed ordinances prohibiting air racing in their airspace, signaling the end of the National Air Races as they had existed up to that point. The races would be reborn decades later in 1964 at Reno, Nevada, as the National Championship Air Races.
Digital scans of the original 4 x 5 inch negatives were created by volunteer A. Kevin Grantham in mid to late 2004; Grantham also researched and composed the initial NASM Archives catalogue descriptions for each image. Digital scans of the original negative envelopes, with annotations believed to have been made by a member of the NASM Aeronautics Department in the 1980s, were created by NASM Archives in April 2022.
Additional photography by Robert E. Burke from the 1947 through 1949 National Air Races, as well as copies of the Official Programs for the 1948 and 1949 Races can be seen in the Bendix Air Races Collection, NASM.1988.0115.
Unknown, transfer from NASM Aeronautics Department, 1994, NASM.XXXX.0555.
0.33 Cubic feet (1 box, 336 black and white 4 x 5 inch format negatives)
This collection consists of 336 black and white 4 x 5 inch format negatives by Robert E. Burke Studios, Inc. of Cleveland, Ohio; most of the photographs depict aircraft, personalities, and activities at or in relation to the National Air Races held at Cleveland in 1948 and 1949.
No restrictions on access
During initial processing by NASM Archives in 2004, the negatives were assigned NASM Archives image reference numbers (NASM 9A02483 through NASM 9A02814-C) in the order in which they were received from the NASM Aeronautics Department; they are physically stored in NASM image reference number order. For the purposes of the online finding aid, the images have been intellectually rearranged into numerical order using the photographer's original 8-digit negative numbers as printed on the original negative envelopes. The images are grouped according to the first four digits of the negative number (Burke's "File" number) and divided into two chronological series for the years 1948 and 1949.
This collection consists of 336 black and white 4 x 5 inch format negatives and their original paper envelopes. The photography has been identified as the work of Robert E. Burke Studios, Inc. of Cleveland, Ohio, advertised as the "Official Photographer" of both the 1948 and 1949 National Air Races. Most of the photographs cover aircraft, personalities, and activities at or in relation to the 1948 and 1949 National Air Races; views include racing and military aircraft on the ground and in flight, views of the spectators (including entertainment personalities such as actor James "Jimmy" Stewart and radio presenter Arthur Godfrey), presentation of awards on the Speaker's Stand, aerial views of Cleveland Municipal Airport, and views of pilots and their supporters. Pilots portrayed include Charles Brown, Cook Cleland, Jacqueline Cochran, Joseph C. De Bona, Ben McKillen, Betty Skelton, and Roscoe Turner. The collection also includes some non-aviation work apparently done for Thompson Products, a major producer of aircraft engine components and high-performance valves used in both aircraft and automobile engines.
National Air Races
Pulitzer Trophy Race
Thompson Trophy Race
De Bona, Joseph C.
Skelton, Betty, 1926-
Turner, Roscoe, 1895-1970
Aeronautics -- Awards
Aeronautics -- Competitions
Aeronautics -- Exhibitions
Women air pilots
Women in aeronautics
National Air and Space Museum Archives