The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Category: Smithsonian History
Ten years ago on December 15 the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center opened in Chantilly, Virginia, near the Washington Dulles International Airport. It coincided with the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first powered flight. Festivities leading up to the public opening day included a "Salute to Military Aviation Veterans," an opening celebration gala, and the dedication.
Part of the National Air and Space Museum, it serves as the companion facility to the museum on the Mall. Its two hangars, the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar and the Boeing Aviation Hangar, amounts to 760,000 square feet. While the museum on the Mall can only display about 10 percent of the collections at a time, the immense Udvar-Hazy Center allows 80 percent of the collection to be on view.
These two facilities present the largest collection of aviation and space artifacts in the world. Exhibition areas feature such topics from general aviation to modern military aviation to human spaceflight. It also has classrooms, an IMAX theater, and observation tower. Various artifacts include the space shuttle Discovery, a Concorde, and the restored Enola Gay.
The Center is named after donor Steven Udvar-Hazy, now chief executive officer of Air Lease Corp., who had pledged a total of $65 million for the project. Udvar-Hazy came to the United States with his family in 1958 as they fled Soviet-occupied Hungary. He would go on to co-found International Lease Finance Corp. while a student at UCLA. The successful aviation business leader wanted to give back to America with his donation to the Smithsonian. Congress had mandated that only non-federal funds be used for the construction.
"I'm thrilled to have the National Air and Space Museum's companion facility named in my honor. I know this new museum will impart to millions of children the same love for aviation that I have, and it will inspire future generations," Udvar-Hazy said in 2000.
The architectural firm HKO (formerly Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum) designed the National Air and Space Museum on the Mall, and it also was selected to create the new facility. Built in two phases the cost was estimated at $311 million to complete.
This seems like a fitting time to share some of the digital files that we have in the Archives about the opening of this facility. This includes documentation leading up to the opening, plans for the objects and construction issues, as well as images of the dedication and opening ceremonies.
- Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air and Space Museum
- Press release - National Air and Space Museum Opens the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center on December 15, 2003, National Air and Space Museum
- Accession 07-183 - National Air and Space Museum, National Air and Space Society, Event Records, 1996-2006, Smithsonian Institution Archives
In a recent reference inquiry a patron was interested in an unusually large mammoth skeleton that was presented to the United States National Museum (presently the National Museum of Natural History) in 1926, and whether President Calvin Coolidge and his wife Grace, received a private viewing of this specimen in April 1927.
My first course of action was to conduct a search of our holdings for "Calvin Coolidge." This search produced eight results, one of which was Record Unit 46 - Smithsonian Institution, Office of the Secretary Records, 1925-1949. I reviewed the Calvin Coolidge correspondence in Box 8 of this collection, but did not find correspondence related to a visit in April 1927. I then reviewed the index for the Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution . . . for the Year Ending June 30, 1927, for "Coolidge, Calvin," and found six such references, including one for Grace Coolidge. Pursuing these references, it became evident that President Coolidge was part of a "Conference on the Future of the Institution," which occurred in February 1927.
Furthermore, it was revealed that Grace donated a "white satin brocaded evening dress, worn in the White House, for the series of costumes of the wives of the President." A review of the Report on the Progress and Condition of the United States National Museum for the Year Ended June 30, 1927, (page 147) revealed that the donation by Grace was assigned Accession Number 93081, which led me to our collection of Accession Records (Record Unit 192 - United States National Museum, Permanent Administrative Files, 1877-1975). The correspondence accompanying the accession record includes a letter acknowledging that Grace visited the Division of History on May 26, 1927 to inspect a figure crafted to embellish the dress she recently donated.
So far what I have been able to establish is that President Coolidge attended a conference at the Smithsonian in February and Grace Coolidge visited the United States National Museum in May 1927. Although there is no correspondence specifically referencing a private viewing of a mammoth specimen in April 1927, there is evidence that the two visited or had contact with the Smithsonian during the period of February-May of the year in question. Now, what about the mammoth specimen?
A review of the Annual Report, Division of Vertebrate Paleontology, 1926-1927 found in Record Unit 158 - United States National Museum, Curators' Annual Reports, 1881-1964, acknowledges that, not only did the division receive a portion of an unusually large mammoth specimen in 1927; furthermore, the specimen had been restored, mounted, and placed in a wall case in the main hall of the United States National Museum!
Admittedly, there is no direct evidence to confirm President Coolidge and his wife, Grace visited the Smithsonian and received a private viewing of a mammoth specimen in April 1927. Reviewing the appropriate resources available revealed that the Smithsonian did indeed receive such a specimen, which was put on display in the main hall of the Unites States National Museum. There is also evidence that the Coolidge's visited and donated to the museum during the time in question. Perhaps the Calvin Coolidge Papers held by the Library of Congress, contains evidence of an April 1927 visit to the Smithsonian. This suggestion was passed along to the patron and hopefully will provide the answer they are looking for.
As for the unexpected, the stumbled upon; the August 12, 1929 letter found in Record Unit 46 suggests that Calvin Coolidge, then a private citizen six months beyond his tenure as President, may have been able to raise two or three million dollars for a new building for the Smithsonian. Did this ever come to fruition? A new question to consider, and the whole process begins again.
- Record Unit 46 - Office of the Secretary, Records, 1925-1949, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Record Unit 158 - United States National Museum, Curators' Annual Reports, 1881-1964, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Record Unit 192 - United States National Museum, Permanent Adminsitrative Files, 1877-1975, Smithsonian Institution Archives.
- Calvin Coolidge Papers, Library of Congress
I would like to introduce you to: Design + Archives, a new monthly series that identifies interesting examples of design found here in the Archives collections. Materials will range in content from exhibition posters and brochures, to letterhead and architectural drawings. Examples of design, both good, bad, and mediocore, abound in the collections of the Archives. The Smithsonian must constantly communicate with its staff, visitors, and supporters, and in doing so must be able to efficiently and effectively convey information and concepts. This series will present without comment, samples of design that I've found visually interesting, while perusing the Archives collections. To start off the series I would like to present the invitation to opening of one of my favorite museums, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. I hope you enjoy the series!
What's in a word? It is hard to know without knowing what that word is. Here at the Archives we are surrounded by words. Words on documents, in field books, diaries and more; however, it is rare that we know what those words are. With a countless number of words, it seems an insurmountable feat to transcribe - that is, read documents and then keyboard them so that they can be searched and made available digitally - even a quarter of our collections to discover the great stories about history that lie within our holdings.
For instance, 150 years ago today, Mary Henry, daughter of first Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry, visited Washington, DC's Navy Yard. Upon reaching her destination, Mary saw an ironclad, a steam-propelled warship covered by iron or steel plates, resting in the water awaiting repairs. How do we know this? Mary, an avid diarist, detailed her excursion in an entry which was transcribed several years ago. She wrote, "She [the ironclad] is a flat boat only a few inches above the water with nothing to be seen upon her iron plated deck but a steam pipe a tall pipe for ventilation a few little holes here & there for the same purpose which are tightly closed however when the boat is at sea, and a round turret." Mary not only admired the ship from ashore, but climbed into the turret "through a small opening & saw her great guns. One of them is a monster the other some what [sic] smaller but large enough to make me shiver at the thought of the damage she might do." Mary's powerful words about the ironclad act as a microcosm for the profound impact historians have noted that these ships had on naval warfare during the Civil War. Without this transcription, an interesting note in Smithsonian history would be much more difficult to find.
With all these words and not enough time to transcribe how can we uncover these stories? Here is where you can come in. The Smithsonian's new Transcription Center has opened for business and needs volunteers to dive into our collections and help us discover new and interesting information about the Smithsonian, its history and its people. So please go check it out and help with transcribing so we can find out what is in our collections' words.
- Mary Henry Diary, 1858-1863 - Transcription Center, Smithsonian Institution
- Mary Henry: Eyewitness to the Civil War, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Record Unit 7001 - Joseph Henry Collection, 1796-1951, c. 1974, 1981-1983 - Series 18 contains Mary Henry’s Diaries, Smithsonian Institution Archives
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