From April 20 to April 23, curators from the Aeronautics Division and the Space History Division attended the 2011 National Conference of the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (PCA/ACA) in San Antonio, Texas. Tom Crouch of the Aeronautics Division organized a session on museum collecting and collectors titled “Collecting the Popular Culture of Flight at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum,” and the participants presented papers on collections that we curate. Tom spoke about the Balloonomania Collection of balloon-related furniture and furnishings; Alex Spencer of the Aeronautics Division talked about the Mother Tusch Collection, which contains many significant personal artifacts of military aviation; Margaret Weitekamp of the Space History Division discussed the O’Harro Collection of space memorabilia and popular culture; and I talked about the Stanley King Collection of Lindbergh memorabilia and popular culture.
Things such as the Hope Diamond, the Star Spangled Banner, the Lansdowne portrait of George Washington, and Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis airplane are good examples—one-of-a-kind items, familiar to all, and widely known to reside at the Smithsonian. Also in this subset of signature objects is one of the most significant in the entire Smithsonian collection—the Wright Flyer, the world’s first airplane.
As we begin to take occupancy of our new home in the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center’s new wing, and begin the process of outfitting the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar, we are faced with the daunting task of moving all of our equipment into the new spaces and setting up an environment which will be favorable to the preservation and restoration of our priceless artifacts for decades to come. This is likely to be a lengthy process but we have begun to deliver selected artifacts so that when the viewing area becomes accessible, visitors will be able to see examples of our gems in the rough. Each of these aircraft has been in storage at the Paul E. Garber Facility in Suitland, Maryland for years, where the Museum's restoration work had taken place for decades. These aircraft are seldom seen by the public, and are all in need of preservation or restoration treatments.
For a number of years now, the United States has set aside February and March to celebrate Black History Month and National Women’s History Month, respectively. While these commemorations are praiseworthy, they should not disguise the fact that they have been rather contentious culturally. Some would argue that it is insulting to African Americans to celebrate their history for only one month every year. In the case of women, National Women’s History Month has become a call to arms in an ongoing struggle for women’s rights, to ensure educational and economic opportunities for all women, and for ending violence against them.
If you’re looking for some online fun, try out several Web activities from our newest exhibition, The Barron Hilton Pioneers of Flight Gallery. The exhibition introduces some of the colorful aviation personalities from the 1920s and 1930s.
In 1909, military aviation began with the purchase of the Wright Military Flyer by the U.S. Army. The Navy sprouted wings two years later in 1911 with a number of significant firsts. The first U.S Navy officers were trained to fly, the Navy purchased its first airplanes from Glenn Curtiss and the Wrights, and sites for naval aircraft operations were established at Annapolis, Md., and at North Island, San Diego, Ca. But the most dramatic demonstration that the skies and the seas were now joined occurred on January 18, 1911, when Eugene Burton Ely made the first successful landing and take-off from a naval vessel.