Early Flight Collection Lands at the National Air and Space Museum

Press Release
Friday, December 19, 2014 - 9:00am

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Alison Mitchell, 202-633-2376, mitchellac@si.edu
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The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum has acquired the Evelyn Way Kendall Ballooning and Early Aviation Collection, The collection has more than a thousand works of art, prints, objects, books, photos and manuscript materials documenting the history of flight from the late 18th to the early 20th century, most of which have never been exhibited. This rare collection was donated to the museum by the Norfolk Charitable Trust.

The sight of the first colorful balloons rising into the air in 1783 generated an unprecedented wave of excitement across Europe. Tens of thousands of spectators crowded the streets of Paris to catch a glimpse of human beings in flight. Due to this excitement, people flocked to print shops to obtain images of the balloons and the men and women who flew them, and consumers rushed to buy memorabilia featuring balloon motifs.

Beginning in the 1920s, Evelyn Way Kendall (1893–1979), the wife of textile manufacturer Henry P. Kendall, began to search antique shops and auction catalogs on two continents for items commemorating the birth of flight. By the 1960s, she had built one of the largest, most diverse and comprehensive collections of historic art and artifacts documenting the birth of the air age in private hands. Highlights of the collection include oil-and-water color paintings of balloon flights in Europe, America and Japan. More than 400 historic prints and engravings depict early flights and the men and women who first braved the skies. Other treasures include 18th-century miniature paintings of the first balloon flights on a variety of small objects; delicately painted ladies fans created in Paris before the French Revolution; a large oil painting showing T.S.C. Lowe’s Civil War balloon equipment during the Peninsula Campaign of 1862; a colorful hatbox covered in wallpaper commemorating a balloon flight from Cincinnati in 1835; and scrapbooks filled with newspaper clippings chronicling the history of ballooning from the 1780s to the 1890s.

The Ontario-born Kendall and her husband, world-class collectors with broad interests, have donated other collections of art, artifacts and manuscripts to the Royal Ontario Museum, the University of South Carolina and the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

With the support of the Norfolk Charitable Trust, work is underway at the museum to catalog and conserve the collection. Plans for exhibition of the collection are underway but a definitive date has not been determined.

“We look forward to sharing the riches of the Kendall Collection with the millions of visitors who pass through the doors of the museum each year,” said Tom Crouch, the museum’s senior curator of aeronautics. “It will enable us to present the story of the birth of flight through objects that communicate the sense of wonder that inspired those who witnessed those first forays into the air.”

The National Air and Space Museum building on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is located at Sixth Street and Independence Avenue S.W. The museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is located in Chantilly, Va., near Washington Dulles International Airport. Attendance at both buildings combined exceeded 8 million in 2013, making it the most visited museum in America. The museum’s research, collections, exhibitions and programs focus on aeronautical history, space history and planetary studies. Both buildings are open from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. every day (closed Dec. 25). 

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  • A bandbox celebrating the flight of Richard Clayton from Cincinnati, Ohio, 1835 from the Evelyn Way Kendall Ballooning and Early Aviation Collection.

  • An enthusiastic crowd gathers for George Graham’s launch from the New Hungerford Market, London, July 2, 1833.

  • A miniature water color painting of a balloon over a French military camp, c.1794 from the Evelyn Way Kendall Ballooning and Early Aviation Collection.

  • A miniature painting of the first flight of a gas balloon from the Champ de Mars on August 27, 1783, on an ivory snuff box from the Evelyn Way Kendall Ballooning and Early Aviation Collection.

  • The crowd cheers the London ascent of the balloon Royal Sultan, flown by Mr. Charles Paternoster, August 7, 1854.

  • Fan dating to 1783 painted with the image of the first hot air balloons to carry living creatures aloft (right and left) and the first gas balloon to carry human beings on a free flight.

  • A small box featuring a mixed hot air and hydrogen balloon over the English Channel from the Evelyn Way Kendall Ballooning and Early Aviation Collection.

  • A circular wood snuff box, from the Evelyn Way Kendall Ballooning and Early Aviation Collection, with scene of the Montgolfier flight from Versailles on  September 19, 1783. The balloon carried a sheep, a duck and a rooster into the air.