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A New Way to Search our Technical Files

Posted on Thu, May 25 2017
  • by: Patti Williams, Museum Archivist
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Since the Museum’s inception in 1946, we have been collecting written, visual, and audible records to document and complement our artifact collection. Currently we have over 17,000 cubic feet of material, with most catalog records viewable on the Smithsonian Institution Research Information System (SIRIS), and complete finding aids available on Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives (SOVA).

But until recently, our largest and most-used archival collection, The Technical Reference Files, did not have an online finding aid. As the majority of the Archives Department’s public reference requests (of which we receive over 2,300 a year) can be answered using material in these files, we are delighted to finally enable researchers to search the listings of this valuable collection.

The “Tech Files,” first organized in the 1940s, is an artificial collection that currently contains 1,920 cubic feet of material relating to aviation and space topics, including photographs, press releases, clippings, correspondence, reports, and brochures. And while we do have material on subjects you would expect to find in this collection, such as the pilot Amelia Earhart and the Apollo Space Program, this collection also includes information on over 80,000 other topics you might not have considered, such as skywriting and smokejumping .

An archivist looks at a file while standing in front of a filing cabinet.

Archivist Kate Igoe examines a file from the Museum's technical files collection. Igoe is the coordinator of the technical files. Image: NASM2017-01447

The files are organized in 22 broad subject series, including: aircraft, both heavier-than-air and lighter-than-air craft; propulsion, engines, accessories, and propellers; biographical, information on specific people involved in the history of aviation and space exploration; air transport, airlines, airports, air mail, and broad air transport topics; and space history, space exploration, astronomy, missiles, rocketry, and remotely piloted vehicles. See our complete listing of the subject series, with brief descriptions.

Now, you can explore the collection and discover some amazing material from the history of aviation and spaceflight. An example of what you might find are the files we have on Braniff International Airlines, which are full of colorful ephemera, including tickets, baggage labels, postcards, timetables, and brochures.

A collection of paper files.

The inside of one the Braniff files, showing the different types of material that can be found in the Museum's archival technical files. Image: NASM2017-01448

So let your searching commence in our Technical Files. And when you’re ready to learn more—this listing provides file title information only—, please contact Archives Reference Desk about the specific content of the individual files. We look forward to assisting your research!

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