Louis R. Purnell, Jr., Curator of Astronautics, in Front of Airplane at NASM

ID: SIA2008-3012

Creator: Unknown


Date: c. 1980s

Citation: Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 9578, Box 1, Folder: 1

Usage Conditions Apply
The Smithsonian Institution Archives welcomes personal and educational use of its collections unless otherwise noted. For commercial uses, please contact photos@si.edu.
Download IIIF ManifestRequest permissionsDownload image Print


  • Louis R. Purnell, 1920-2001, curator of Astronautics at the National Air and Space Museum, stands in front of an aircraft in the museum. Early in his life he was able to realize his dream of becoming a pilot when the Civilian Pilot Training Program was instituted on the campus of his undergraduate institution, Lincoln University. In 1942, he was accepted into the seventh class of African American Army Air Force aviation cadets stationed at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Tuskegee, Alabama (the Tuskegee Airmen), and in 1943 joined the all-Black 99th Fighter Squadron. During World War II, he completed two tours of duty in North Africa and southern Italy with the 99th, and later the 332nd Fighter Group.
  • After his return to the United States, Purnell worked with the Office of the Quartermaster General and the United States Book Exchange at the Library of Congress. In 1961, Purnell joined the Division of Invertebrate Paleontology and Paleobotany in the National Museum of Natural History. In 1968, he moved to the Department of Astronautics of the National Air and Space Museum. During his career in the Astronautics Department (renamed the Department of Space Science and Exploration in 1980), he progressed through the ranks from Museum Specialist to Curator until his retirement in January 1985.


  • Purnell, Louis R
  • National Air and Space Museum
  • National Air and Space Museum (U.S.) Dept. of Astronautics
  • National Museum of Natural History (U.S.) Dept. of Paleobiology Division of Invertebrate Paleontology
  • Department of Paleobiology (NMNH) Division of Invertebrate Paleontology
  • United States Army Air Forces Fighter Group, 332nd
  • Tuskegee Airmen, Inc


Historic Images of the Smithsonian

Contained within

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 9578, Box 1, Folder: 1

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2520, SIHistory@si.edu


c. 1980s

Restrictions & Rights

No restrictions


  • Personnel management
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • Employees
  • Museums
  • Air pilots
  • Museum curators
  • Museums--Employees
  • Smithsonian Institution--Employees
  • African American air pilots
  • African Americans


Washington (D.C.)

ID Number


Physical description

Number of Images: 1; Color: Black and white; Size: 5w x 7h; Type of Image: Person, Candid; Medium: Photographic print

Full Record

View Full Record