The 100th Anniversary of the First Transatlantic Flight: Transcribe the Albert Read NC-4 Collection

Posted on Tue, April 16, 2019

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.

Three aircraft on the water with people on the dock

Curtiss NC-1, NC-3, NC-4, leaving Rockaway, Long Island, May 8, 1919. A sizeable crowd watches their departure from the shore. NASM A-38529-A

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.

Five men in naval uniforms

The original crew of the Curtiss NC-4 for its May 1919 transatlantic flight: left to right, Chief Mechanics Mate Eugene S. Rhodes; Lt. J. L. Breese, reserve engineer; Lt. (jg) Walter Hinton; Lt. Elmer Stone, USCG, pilots; Lt. Commander A.C. Read, Flight Commander.  NASM 93-8462

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.

Read’s log book from the NC-4

plan cover of log book

“NC Seaplane Division One: Log of NC-4”: Cover of Albert C. Read’s Log for the NC-4’s historic transatlantic flight.  NASM.XXXX.0391-M0000151-00020

columns from a log book

Page 13 of Albert C. Read’s Log for the NC-4’s historic transatlantic flight.  Information about the flight on May 8, 1919, from Rockaway, New York, to Halifax, Nova Scotia.  NASM.XXXX.0391-M0000151-00160

Cablegrams, Signals, and Dispatches

Cablegram on pink paper

Text of cablegram from King George V of the United Kingdom, congratulating the American Ambassador on the arrival of the NC-4 and its aviators to the United Kingdom on May 31, 1919. NASM.XXXX.0391-M0000010-00140

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.