What do baseball, hockey, and football have in common? Hint: It’s more than just the roar of the crowd or competitive all-star athletes. Each sporting event has some connection to aviation and spaceflight—yes, spaceflight.
Our intrepid archivist, Elizabeth Borja, has been exploring this connection for years. Whether it’s the testing of spacesuits at a baseball game or the New York Yankees flying on a Douglas DC-4, Borja has uncovered surprising sports stories filed away in the Museum’s Archives. Here are our five, all-time-favorite stories in honor of today’s #MuseumWeek theme: sports (#sportsMW).
Playing Baseball in Spacesuits
Take Me Out to the Ball Game!
In the late 1950s, players took to the field of the US Naval Air Material Center in Philadelphia wearing B.F. Goodrich Mark IV spacesuits. The game was staged to demonstrate the spacesuits’ flexibility. The Mark IV would evolve to become the original Project Mercury spacesuit.
Football From the Lens of an Award-Winning Balloonist
Football in 1907
From the upper rows of Soldier Field, balloonist Edgar W. Mix captured photos of the 1907 Harvard vs. Carlisle football game. Mix, the second American to win the Gordon Bennett International Balloon Race in 1909, was just a spectator during this game, but he did pay witness to some revolutionary play. The forward pass had been legal for less than a year, and Carlisle coach Glenn Scobey Warner introduced a new (though familiar to modern viewers) game plan including a stop-and-go 85-yard punt return, a quarterback run off a fake handoff, and a solid short and long passing game, taking advantage of the new rules.
Building Gliders, Making Time for Hockey
In the Archives: The Good Old Hockey Game
When employees of the Northwestern Aeronautical Corporation weren’t assembling up to 15 wooden gliders a day in the St. Paul, Minnesota, factory during World War II, they were playing hockey. According to the company’s president, the hockey team was quite good and “led the league out there for a couple of years.”
Aviation an Olympic Sport
The Year Aeronautics Was an Olympic Event
Modern opening ceremonies are often accompanied by a flyover, but in the 1936 games in Berlin, Germany, a gold medal was awarded for Aeronautics. Gliding, in which aircraft were catapulted into the air, and aerobatics were demonstration events, with the hope that aeronautics would one day become a full-fledged event.
Air Travel for Athletes
Air travel revolutionized our world in more ways than one. For athletes and their managers, it meant a quicker way to get to games and more time for the players to rest. The first team to make charter arrangements for a full season was the 1946 New York Yankees. On May 13 of that year, the Yankees flew a United Airlines chartered Douglas DC-4, dubbed the Yankees Mainliner, from LaGuardia Airport in New York to St. Louis. According to the Associated Press, several hundred fans went to the airport to see their team take off. Joe DiMaggio bumped his head as he entered the plane.