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SEATTLE—The Museum of Flight announced today its acquisition of an important collection of archival materials from the earliest days of the American aircraft industry. The centerpiece of the collection is the original business records of the Wright Co.—the nation's first aircraft manufacturing firm, incorporated in 1909 by Orville and Wilbur Wright. Included in these archives are original contracts, sales records, personnel records and internal company memoranda. "These priceless records constitute nothing less than the birth certificate of the American aviation industry," said Museum President and CEO Ralph Bufano.
The Museum acquired the Wright papers from Joseph Gertler, a private collector in Florida. The archives were long thought to have been lost or destroyed, but Gertler had in fact acquired the papers in 1992 from a former Curtiss-Wright Corp. employee who had saved them from destruction by that company. Curtiss-Wright had inherited the archives in a series of mergers in the early years of the 20th century.
The existence of the Gertler Collection was brought to the Museum's attention by Trustee Jon Shirley. Because the papers had been thought missing for so many years, Museum Senior Curator Dennis Parks was sent to Florida to make a personal assessment of the legitimacy and significance of the collection. On receiving his extremely favorable report, the Museum was able to negotiate the collection's acquisition through grants from the Bruce and Jolene McCaw Donor Advised Fund and the Apex Foundation.
In addition to the Wright papers, the Gertler Collection also includes the corporate archives of the Curtiss Aeroplane Co. (1910–1923) and the Glenn Martin Co. (1912–1917). The paths of these early pioneers in aviation paralleled and intersected with the Wrights' at many points, and taken together, these materials provide a significantly more comprehensive view of the early aircraft industry than do the Wright papers alone.
The longstanding unavailability to historians of these important primary sources has left what Parks calls "a gaping hole in the historical record of the first days of aviation. All the books about the Wright brothers need to be corrected, since they were written without access to these papers." The Museum plans to sponsor a program of research and publication using these materials to correct and complete this historical record. In addition, the collection will provide vital and unique material for the Museum's new Wright brothers exhibit, scheduled to open by December 17, 2003, for the 100th anniversary of the Wrights' first powered flight.
The Gertler Collection joins a number of other significant archival holdings in the Museum's collection, including early Boeing and Douglas materials, the Jeppesen Papers and the Lear Archives Collection. All the Museum's archival and library holdings are available to students, researchers, historians and the general public.
About The Museum of Flight
The independent, non-profit Museum of Flight is one of the largest non-governmental air and space museums in the world. The Museum's collection includes more than 120 historically significant air- and spacecraft, as well as the Red Barn—the original manufacturing facility of The Boeing Company. The Museum's aeronautical library and archival holdings are the largest on the West Coast. More than 100,000 children are served annually by the Museum's on-site and outreach educational programs—the most extensive museum-based youth aerospace education program in the country. The Museum is one of only 750 museums in the country that is fully accredited by the American Association of Museums.