Among the treasures found within the special collections of the DeWitt Clinton Ramsey Room, a branch of the Smithsonian Libraries located at the National Air and Space Museum, is a collection of oversized scrapbooks with an interesting and complicated history. Originally bound in one volume, William Upcott’s Scrapbook of Early Aeronautica captures the history of lighter-than-air aircraft and aeronautics from 1783 to the 1840s through a rich collection of newspaper clippings, articles, illustrations, and letters.
Visitors to our Innovations in Flight Family Day and Outdoor Aviation Display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center on June 18, are in for a real treat. In addition to the wide variety of aircraft that will fly in for the event and the other special programs planned, Andrew Richardson, the owner of Adams Balloons LLC of Albuquerque, New Mexico, will be making tethered flights with a new Smithsonian hot air balloon, weather permitting. Realizing that we have a beautiful example of a classic Adams wicker balloon basket on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center, Richardson asked if we would accept a modern hot air balloon envelope sporting the Smithsonian logo and colors into the collection. While the Museum has a world-class collection of balloon baskets and gondolas, we did not, in fact, have an envelope. Anxious to fill that gap, we quickly accepted Richardson’s generous offer.
Our Archives houses the Technical Reference Files, an important collection of aeronautical and astronautical topics comprised of 1,920 cubic feet of documents, photographs, and ephemera. This important resource is housed in vertical files and is an organic, growing collection to which material is added constantly. Recently, we came across a remarkable document in the Tech Files of the long fight against tuberculosis—shared with you today in recognition of World Tuberculosis Day.
Lots of museums and historical institutions have letters from George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in their collection, but why would a museum dedicated to aviation, space exploration, and planetary science?
Eighteenth century ladies fans are not something visitors normally expect to encounter in the National Air and Space Museum. Nevertheless, we have them! The Evelyn Way Kendall Ballooning and Early Aviation Collection, acquired in 2014 thanks to the generosity of the Norfolk Charitable Trust, includes over 1,000 works of art, prints, posters, objects, manuscripts, and books documenting the history of flight from the first balloon ascensions in 1783 through the early years of the twentieth century.
The National Air and Space Museum Archives hold biographical information on many people related to aviation, but it is still surprising to find articles about one Antonie Strassmann, a famous German actress of the 1920s. The few clippings indicate a fascinating story – a woman pilot who had performed on stage and in silent movies, who flew in balloons, held a world record in cycling for women, and loved to box. But was Antonie really one of these aviatrixes of the 1920s who were often accused of donning a flight suit and goggles for the sake of publicity only?
The National Air and Space Museum boasts an extraordinary collection of record setting balloon baskets and gondolas. There is Explorer II, which carried U.S. Army Air Corps Captains Albert W. Stevens and Orvil Anderson to a record altitude of (22,066 meters) 72,395 feet on November 11, 1935. In August 1978, Maxie Anderson, Ben Abruzzo, and Larry Newman made the first balloon crossing of the Atlantic in Double Eagle II.
Aerial weddings may now be considered quite commonplace. Just a quick online search turns up a number of places that provide skydiving services. But in the nineteenth century, the idea of flying at all was still exciting. Balloon weddings? Those were spectacles! Mary West Jenkins and Dr. John F. Boyton intended to be married on November 8, 1865, in Thaddeus Lowe’s balloon, high over New York City.
For many people, sitting down and reading a thick history book is not the most exciting proposal. I have had more than one relative question my choice to study history, and inform me that it was their least enjoyable class in school. Luckily for them, history can be found in more places than traditional scholarly textbooks. History can be found in television, movies, and even comic books. Although it may be more enjoyable to experience history in this way, these sources may not always be the most accurate representations.
Although the collection of the National Air and Space Museum contains some of the best air- and spacecraft, it also has one of the best collections of artifacts from the often forgotten days of ballooning. Before humans were able to fly into the heavens on wings or rockets, they first rose off the ground in balloons, often tethered to prevent complete flight.