With worldwide flight so prevalent, it’s hard to believe that just 100 years ago, humans had never flown across the Atlantic Ocean. John Wise and Thaddeus Lowe had designs on crossing in a balloon before the turn of the century. Walter and Arthur Wellman tried in 1910 in the airship America. Soon, airplanes entered the fray. The race for the first transatlantic flight by airplane heated up in 1913 when the British newspaper The Daily Mail offered £10,000 for the feat, but that challenge was interrupted by World War I.
In May 1919, the U.S. Navy sponsored three Curtiss flying boats—the NC-1, NC-3, and NC-4—each with a crew of six, in an attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Lt. Commander Albert C. Read commanded the NC-4, the only aircraft to succeed in its mission. Read’s logbook, photo album, cablegrams, and dispatches are in the Admiral Albert C. Read, USN (Curtiss NC-4) Collection in the National Air and Space Museum Archives.
As we prepare to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the NC-4’s historic transatlantic flight, the materials in Read’s collection are available to transcribe in the Smithsonian’s Transcription Center. Volunteers (or “volunpeers,” as they are fondly known) will be able to read, transcribe, and review the log book, cables, a photo album, and more. Then, the new transcriptions will be searchable in the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives and other Smithsonian platforms.
The Read collection also includes congratulatory correspondence from Portuguese organizations (both the original in Portuguese and a translation), the submitted report on the flight and its instruments, and a photo album.
The race for other transatlantic flights continued for years to come. John Alcock and Arthur Brown became the first to cross the Atlantic nonstop just a month after the NC-4 in June 1919. Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral were the first to cross the South Atlantic successfully in 1922. Charles Lindbergh accomplished the first solo nonstop flight in May 1927.