Hero’s Welcome

A Souvenir Menu Recalls Earhart’s Triumphant Return to the U. S.

The recent reports about possible new evidence in the 80-year mystery of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance reminded me of a little item in our collections: a menu for a 1932 dinner honoring the pilot. Housed, perhaps incongruously, within our Aviation Pamphlets and Brochures Collection (Ms1994-015), this souvenir  commemorates a milestone in aviation and women’s history.

Cover of the Earhart Waldorf-Astoria dinner menu. Though Earhart did not take her husband’s name after marriage and is invariably identified today by her maiden name, the press and others most often referred to her as “Amelia Earhart Putnam” or “Mrs. Putnam” during the years of her married life.

Though Amelia Earhart’s name endures, it may be difficult for us to imagine today the level of fame she attained through her derring-do.  The word “icon” has perhaps been devalued through overuse in recent years, but Earhart’s solo crossing of the Atlantic made her a true icon and arguably the most famous woman of her time.

Even before Earhart undertook her solo transatlantic flight in 1932, she had gained fame through her feats: as the first woman to cross the Atlantic via airplane (1928), as the first woman to make a solo transcontinental roundtrip flight across the U. S. (1928), and as the record holder for the highest altitude attained in an autogyro (1931). Despite occasional criticisms leveled against her skills as a flyer, Earhart through her personality and her penchant for self-promotion put a face on women’s advances in fields  that previously had been reserved for men.

The menu includes a brief list of Earhart’s accomplishments to 1932.

Earhart departed Newfoundland on May 20, 1932 and landed in Ireland the following day, exactly five years after Charles Lindbergh’s historic solo flight across the Atlantic. While most know that Earhart was the first woman to make such a flight, few may remember that no pilot had successfully made a solo transatlantic flight in the five years after Lindbergh.

Within the menu is this photo of Earhart in Ireland. The caption celebrates her crossing of the Atlantic in 13 hours and 30 minutes, a new record for a transatlantic flight.

In the following weeks, Earhart toured Europe, receiving a number of honors and being feted by various dignitaries. After several weeks of enjoying her celebrity, Earhart  embarked for home. Despite her accomplishment, transatlantic flight remained a dangerous undertaking reserved for pioneering daredevils. (The transatlantic passenger service established by Germany’s Graf Zeppelin in 1928 averaged only about 20 flights per year for the next decade. Weather and distance would prevent the commercial viability of transatlantic passenger plane flights until the late 1930s.) The singularity of Earhart’s feat is underscored by the fact that she returned to the U. S. via cruise ship.

With the country in the throes of the Great Depression, Earhart had asked that her welcome home be an understated affair, but it was perhaps because of the desperate need for something to celebrate that the flyer’s request went unheeded. When the Ile de France arrived in New York on June 20, it was greeted by all the fanfare the city could muster, including a tickertape parade. Following a luncheon hosted by the Advertising Federation Convention and several rounds of interviews, the day’s activities concluded at the Waldorf-Astoria, where a full-course dinner was held in Earhart’s honor. Speakers included Charles Lawrence, president of the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce of America; Don Brown, president of Pratt & Whitney Aircraft; W. Irving Glover, second assistant postmaster of the United States; and Earhart herself. The speeches were broadcast nationwide via radio.

The menu for Earhart’s dinner.

Unfortunately, as far as I was able to determine (in an admittedly cursory search), Earhart’s words that night seem to have gone unrecorded. She reportedly recounted the experiences of her flight. Perhaps she also repeated some of the responses she had given earlier that day to critics who derided her flight as a non-event. In interviews, Earhart said that she regarded her flight as a personal mission, a justification. After she had flown across the Atlantic in 1928 as a passenger, one commentator downplayed the feat, likening her usefulness on the flight to a sack of potatoes.

In The Sound of Wings, biographer Mary S. Lovell writes of Earhart’s solo flight, “[T]hough the flight in itself offered no particular breakthrough, the mere fact that there were pilots prepared to risk all to gain records encouraged manufacturers to further technological effort. … In the public eye, too, the flight was a triumphant success at a time when newspapers carried daily reports of fatal air crashes. So her success encouraged confidence in aviation as a principle.”

Despite her protestations to the contrary, Amelia Earhart had done much more than answer her critics, and the public responded in a big way, as evidenced in a little menu in our little collection.

In addition to the Earhart menu, the Aviation Pamphlets and Brochures Collection contains a number of interesting pieces relating to the first half century of aviation history. For a complete list, see the collection’s finding aid.

Less Than the Sum of Its Parts: the W. Dale Parker Papers

Behind virtually any collection of personal papers is an ego, a voice saying, “I was here. I mattered.” Such collections can be indispensable resources in chronicling the lives of the famous and infamous or in offering insights into a particular time or topic. While history may greatly benefit from these collections, however, it is often to egotism, not altruism, that their existence is owed. In the case of the W. Dale Parker Papers (Ms1989-093), we see that egotism taken to an extreme. In more than 20 years of arranging and describing personal papers, I’ve never run across a collection quite like it–one in which a person devoted so much time and effort to celebrating his life while leaving behind so little of real substance.

Dale Parker, management specialist with NASA’s Project Gemini, 1964-1969; self-described aerospace engineer, human relations expert, and presidential advisor. (NASA photo)

Born in Portsmouth, Virginia, Dale Parker (1925-2007) attended the College of William & Mary for a year before being dismissed for poor grades. (He would remain devoted to the school and invariably identified himself as an alumnus of the class of 1949.) During World War II, Parker served in the U. S. Coast Guard for 16 months before being discharged, apparently for medical reasons. Afterward, he took a handful of courses at various colleges, and, following 10 years of coursework, graduated from the industrial engineering program of International Correspondence Schools (ICS). (Though he would later claim to have earned a doctoral degree and thus frequently referred to himself as “Dr. W. Dale Parker,” Parker’s 1968 doctorate from a now-defunct Mexican university was strictly honorary, bestowed upon him for unknown reasons. Likewise, though he sometimes described himself as an aerospace engineer, there is no evidence within the collection that Parker held any educational credentials beyond the ICS industrial engineering degree.)

After working for five years as a draftsman at the Naval Proving Ground, Parker became a plant engineer at General Motors’ Wilmington, Delaware plant in 1951, later serving as an assistant director in charge of public relations and counseling. He worked as a management specialist for General Dynamics – Astronautics from 1961 until 1964, when he was hired by NASA as a management specialist for Project Gemini. (He often credited himself with bringing Gemini from nine months behind schedule to nine months ahead of schedule within nine months.) He retired from NASA in 1969, records suggesting that the retirement was on a disability claim.

Parker remained engaged in a number of other activities after retirement: working as a pro bono counselor; volunteering with civic organizations and charities; and maintaining memberships in a number of fraternal and masonic organizations. He also incorporated a small, nebulous business called Multiple Services; tried his hand at several short-lived business enterprises; and self-published several books.

One of several books self published by genius Dale Parker.

Parker’s papers were donated to Virginia Tech’s Special Collections in several installments beginning in the late 1980s, when the department was aggressively building its collections. Due to his work at NASA, Parker’s papers seemed a good fit for the department’s Archives of American Aerospace Exploration, where they would share shelf space with those of such figures as Apollo astronaut Michael Collins NASA flight director Chris Kraft.

Unfortunately, Parker’s papers have very little to do with the topic of space exploration and very much to do with the topic of Dale Parker. With the exception of bills and invoices, Parker seems to have retained anything that had his name on it. A large portion of the collection consists of such ephemera as membership cards, credit cards, and appointment calendars. Also included are such self-exploring items as personality quizzes, astrological readings, handwriting analyses—anything that could possibly be used to help future historians to understand and explain the unique and powerful mind of Dale Parker. In the collection’s many folders we learn of his short-lived 1977 Florida gubernatorial campaign; his ill-fated attempts to manufacture and market such inventions as the Amy Carter Peanut Doll and the Space Exploration and Technology Trivia Game; and his acquaintance with such celebrities as Bob Hope and Johnny Weissmuller. Prominent in the collection are the many scrapbooks that Parker compiled, including his scrapbook magnum opus: a pair of giant albums in the shape of the state of Delaware. Meanwhile, the records of his work at NASA comprise just a single folder (though, admittedly, the collection contains a handful of other folders about Project Gemini and NASA history).

Given that the focus of Dale Parker’s papers is largely on himself as an individual, providing few insights into Project Gemini, the most noteworthy period of his career, we might be forgiven for thinking the collection unworthy of any attention. Even here, however, are to be found materials of interest.

Parker took painstaking efforts in collecting materials relating to his youngest daughter, Jacquelyn Parker, the first female graduate of the U. S. Test Pilot School. Included are items detailing her personal, professional, and military life, of interest for their relevance to both aviation and women’s history. Also of possible interest are hundreds of letters from Dale Parker’s pen pals in Belarus and other former Soviet states. Written from 1993 to 2006, many of the letters discuss cultural, political, and economic changes following the Soviet collapse; the balance of newfound freedoms against economic hardships; international relations; and the Chernobyl disaster.

Of all the accolades that Parker awarded himself, perhaps none was more important to him than that of political insider. A prolific correspondent, he frequently wrote to politicians to offer advice and ask favors. Seemingly guided not so much by ideology or personal loyalty than an attraction to power and a compulsive need to be heard, Parker donated to both major political parties and indiscriminately offered his advice. Though he did not wield the political power that he claimed (often billing himself as a “presidential advisor” and “White House veteran”), Parker was in fact personally acquainted with a number of prominent politicians and had a knack—largely through his monetary donations—of getting their attention. (In 1977, Parker mounted his own short-lived, independent Florida gubernatorial campaign and gained some attention in the press for his unconventional method of recruiting a running mate through newspaper advertisements.) The collection’s political series provides something of an overview of American political issues and personalities of the late 20th century. Included among the printed material are letters personally addressed to Parker. In addition to office-holders, the collection contains personal notes from presidential family and staff members.

A 1979 letter from George H. W. Bush, apparently responding to a request from Parker to withdraw from the 1980 Republican primary campaign for the benefit of a united Republican Party.


Apparently responding to a problem that Parker had expressed about Medicare, then-Senator Joe Biden wrote this 1990 letter, briefly expressing his views on oversight of bureaucratic agencies.


One of several letters received by Parker from Rose Mary Wood, Richard Nixon’s personal secretary. In this brief note, Wood thanks Parker and his wife for their continued support of the recently resigned Nixon.

The collection also contains a number of individual items that, while having no great research value, are of interest for their association with a specific time, activity, or person. A “WIN” (“Whip Inflation Now”) button from the Ford era; an autographed photo of astronaut Alan Bean; a letter from Carl Sagan regarding the prospect of faster-than-light space travel: these are among the collection’s many disparate items with a little tale to tell.

So, while we cannot claim that the W. Dale Parker Papers are an invaluable resource for the  scholar of aerospace exploration, they do contain, here and there, items of lasting interest, some that have legitimate research value and some that could perhaps be used as exhibit pieces or instructional materials in a classroom setting.

If nothing else, however, the Dale Parker Papers would be of interest to anybody writing a biography of Dale Parker, and perhaps that was all he ever wanted.

(You can learn more about Dale Parker and his papers by seeing the collection’s finding aid here.)

And Lift Off! Highlights of the Michael Collins collection are now online!

Photograph of the Agena target vehicle rocket launch for the NASA Gemini 10 Mission, 1966 Link

Occasionally I get the chance to work with something in our collections that give me shivers, and the notebooks that astronaut Michael Collins used on the NASA Gemini and Apollo spaceflight missions definitely fall into that category. I mean, it isn’t often that you get to handle and scan items that have actually been in space! You can see the online collection here.

Michael Collins is probably most famous for his role as the command module pilot on the Apollo 11 Mission, the first manned mission to land on the lunar surface. Collins orbited the moon while commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin descended to its surface.

Excerpt from Collins’ training notebook for the Apollo 11 Mission, diagramming his lunar landing flight maneuver See notebook 

In 1989, Virginia Tech Special Collections was honored to receive his papers, which cover Collins’ Air Force career, training at the U. S. Test Pilot School and Experimental Flight Center, participation in NASA’s Gemini and Apollo programs, and tenure at the State Department and NASM. While this collection has been heavily used by students and researchers for many years, it wasn’t until this past summer and fall of 2016 that we were able to get a large portion of it scanned and ready to go online. I’m really excited to get some of these items out there for the wider world to see.

Before the Apollo missions, Collins was also involved in the Gemini missions, serving as pilot of Gemini 10, launched July 18, 1966. During this mission, Collins and commander John Young set a new orbital altitude record and completed a successful rendezvous with a separate orbiting space vehicle, paving the way for modern day space vehicle maneuvers such as docking with the International Space Station. Another notable achievement from this mission was the successful completion of two spacewalks by Collins. Collins was the was fourth person ever to perform a spacewalk (referred to by NASA as an EVA, or Extravehicular Activity), and the first person to ever perform more than one. 

Excerpt from the Apollo 11 onboard transcript, showing the moment Armstrong landed the spacecraft on the moon, 1969 See the transcript


After retiring from the NASA astronaut program in 1970, Collins worked for the US State Department and the Smithsonian Institute, serving as the first director of the National Air and Space Museum. The collection also includes many items related to his later work, as well as many items sent to him by adoring fans and space enthusiasts from around the world. What’s now online is just a portion of the collection, hopefully we’ll be able to get more up soon. You can see the finding aid for the collection here.

Collins during training for the Gemini 10 mission, 1966 link

The American Woods . . . the 19th Century . . . and Beyond

Hough's The American Woods
Hough’s The American Woods

Some of us carry around images or a sensibility of the 19th century, often for no other reason than to be able to see or hear something and to instantly be able to say, “Ahh, that’s soooo 19th century.” OK, maybe not many of us. For one friend of mine, the slow-moving Connecticut River on a summer day and away from the sound of traffic was 19th-century perfection. We’re not talking nostalgia here, just the satisfaction of a fitting image. Perhaps nobody has offered a more fitting and memorable image of that century than Theodore Adorno, when he said, (in one of my most favorite quotes about anything):

“In the nineteenth century the Germans painted their dream and the outcome was invariably vegetable. The French needed only to paint a vegetable and it was already a dream.”

Don’t I wish I’d said that! My own images of the 19th century include a movement towards—if not culmination of—classification and encyclopedism, as well as the invention of complex or specialized mechanical devices. The dynamic of these two trends rush over the beginning of the 20th century the way a huge post-romantic symphony might be understood to have already overflowed its orchestral banks . . . but without yet doing serious damage to anything.

Romeyn Beck Hough
Romeyn Beck Hough

Romeyn Beck Hough (1857–1924) was a 19th-century American botanist and son of Franklin Benjamin Hough, the first chief of the U.S. Division of Forestry, a man routinely noted as the first leader of the American forestry movement and, sometimes, as the “father” of American forestry (along with Gifford Pinchot). The son’s work, The American Woods, pictured above, is the subject of this post because it seems, to me, at least, emblematic of these two trends.

The full title of the work pictured above is The American Woods: exhibited by actual specimens and with copious explanatory text, and for Hough it was his life’s work. Although he didn’t do the classification himself, he was very keen on comprehensive exhibiting and explaining based on the classification. He began working in 1883 on this project, which had as its goal nothing less than the representation of all American woods. Photographs, of course, would not be an adequate means for representing the wood, so in fine late 19th-century style, Hough provided actual samples of each . . . in three different sections, transverse, radial, and tangential. These specimens, thin enough to be translucent when lit, were, as Hough explained, “mounted in durable frame-like Bristol-board pages, with black waterproofed surfaces . . . and each bears printed in gilt-bronze the technical name of the species and its English, German, French and Spanish names.” As Hough said of the work, it is “illustrated by actual specimens, and being in this way an exhibition of nature itself it possesses a peculiar and great interest never found in a press-printed book.” In Hough’s obituary, William Trelease wrote of the use of the woods themselves as illustrations,”[they], unlike texts and drawings, never can become out-of-date nor be found to contain untruths except as the names applied in his day to the trees he sectioned undergo change with progressing knowledge.” (Science, Vol. LX, No. 1557, October 12, 1924).

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The project was planned as a 15-volume series to be arranged according to geography and released over a number of years. The first three volumes, first made available in 1888, represented the woods of New York, Hough’s home state. Each volume contained, in addition to at least 25 mounted and framed sets of samples, a booklet that offered the “copious explanatory text,” including a “systematic study” of the woods represented in the volume. This material described each tree’s physical characteristics, growth habits, habitat, medicinal properties, and commercial uses.

So, that’s the “classification/presentation” part. What about the mechanical? In order to exhibit samples at the required thinness, Hough had to invent the means to produce them! Of course. In 1886 he received a patent for a device that could cut wood to a thickness of 1/1200th of an inch, far thinner than required for The American Woods project. In fact, ever the entrepreneur, Hough’s purpose for the device as stated in the patent materials was, “to provide flexible wooden cards suitable for use as business or fancy cards, or cards for use in photography, the arts, &c. . . .” The following advertisement could be found inside early editions of The American Woods:

Advertisement for Hough's Wooden Cards
Advertisement for Hough’s Wooden Cards

In another ad, also for the same “Wooden Cross-Section Cards,” the text reads, “It was found in the early experiments in sectioning and preparing specimens for AMERICAN WOODS, that the transverse sections of certain woods were of surprising strength and smoothness, and suitable for cards for commercial purposes.” Not the least of which was advertising The American Woods itself.

Advertisement for The American Woods on one of Hough's Wooden Cross-section Cards (from the Library of Congress)
Advertisement for The American Woods on one of Hough’s Wooden Cross_section Cards (from the Library of Congress)

These were not the only uses for Hough’s wood slicing device. Back in the realm of botany and biology, Hough produced slides that could be used by magic lantern projectors allowing the fine detail of the woods to be seen and studied by groups of people. Lastly, using the capacity of the device to produce the thinnest sections, Hough also prepared slides for use with a microscope.

Slide for use with magic lantern projector
Slide for use with magic lantern projector
Slide for use with microscope
Slide for use with microscope

At the beginning of his project, Hough is said to have personally selected each tree that provided his samples. At least with regard to the 27 sets of sections that comprise the first volume, he writes in a November 1887 prospectus seeking subscribers:

“The author has been scrupulously careful about the identification of each tree, selected for the specimens, in the field, before felling it, while the leaves, flowers or fruit (one or all) have been obtainable, and he can vouch for the authenticity of every species represented.”

In 1889, The American Woods was awarded a grand prize at the Paris Exposition. By 1909, it had won medals at the Columbian Exposition at Chicago, Pan-American Exposition at Buffalo, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle and the Elliott Cresson Medal of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. It was recognized as an essential resource and was reviewed as such.

Between 1888 and 1913, thirteen of the projected fifteen volumes were published in three editions at an initial price of $5.00 per volume. Extra or replacement specimen cards were available at $0.10 apiece, as announced inside the cover of several volumes. Hough’s aim was to “carry constantly a supply of such specimens.” Of the thirteen volumes, the first four covered the trees of New York and adjacent states, specimens in volume five were collected in Florida, parts six through ten represent the trees of the Pacific slope, eleven and twelve present the species of the Atlantic and Central states, while volume thirteen continued the collection of species from Florida.

Romeyn Hough died in 1924 before he could finish the project. What turned out to be the last volume in the series, the fourteenth, was completed by his daughter, Marjorie Galloway Hough, and published in 1928. It contained additional specimens from Florida. In all, the work presents 354 species and 1056 wood samples.

Romeyn Beck Hough with his samples, from <em>California's Magazine</em> (1916), Hough's "American Woods," vol. 2, p. 285.
Romeyn Beck Hough with his samples, from California’s Magazine (1916), Hough’s “American Woods,” vol. 2, p. 285.

Special Collections has the first twelve volumes of Hough’s work. It is, for the most part, in fabulous shape. The fourteenth volume is particularly rare and we would like to complete the set, if we can.

But if The American Woods had a 19th-century genesis, its life and significance continued through the 20th and into the 21st centuries. In 1954, Robert Speller and Sons, publishers, determined that a large supply of Hough’s original samples still existed and were in the possession of Hough’s daughter, Marjorie. She supplied the specimens for a new edition of the work, published in 1957 and titled, Hough’s Encyclopaedia of American Woods. Eight new volumes of descriptive text was provided by Ellwood Scott Harrar, then Dean of the School of Forestry at Duke University, along with 16 volumes of samples. The samples were presented in much the same manner as the originals, three different sections of a single species mounted on individual cards.

Title page, <em>Hough's Encyclopedia of American Woods</em>
Title page, Hough’s Encyclopedia of American Woods
Sample, Hough's Encyclopedia of American Woods
Sample, Hough’s Encyclopedia of American Woods


This newer edition may be found in Newman Library’s general collection. Though perhaps lacking the charm of the original edition, it includes 385 varieties of trees and 1161 separate samples, thus including examples that Hough had not been able to present in the original editions, but for which he had specimens. In fact, as recently as December 2011, Jon Speller, son of the publisher, posted a website on which he offered a collection of nearly 1.2 million individual wood specimens comprising the remainder of Hough’s own collection!

I have had the pleasure of showing the set in Special Collections to students, researchers, and woodworkers alike. The American Woods is a remarkable achievement. An unparalleled resource of its time, it remains an exquisite thing of beauty. It should then come as no surprise that in this century—in 2002 and again in 2013—Taschen, an art book publisher came out with The Woodbook, a volume that contains high quality photographic reproductions of all the original specimen plates from Hough’s original volumes, along with selected drawings and text.

The Wood Book, Taschen
The Wood Book, Taschen

Neither vegetable nor dream, of this century and each of the prior two centuries, and representing a lifetime of work, Hough’s The American Woods remains a testament to the beauty and utility of a fine piece of wood.

The Flying Man: 18th-century style

One of the great things about working in a place like Special Collections is that “discovery” can be an everyday occurrence. I’ve written at this blog—either obliquely or directly—about this dimension of the job, as have many of my colleagues. Whether the find is a promotional flyer for D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, a journal from an arctic expedition, a letter written by Victoria Cross (one of several pseudonyms of British writer, Annie Sophie Cory), or a copy of The Great Gatsby autographed by F. Scott Fitzgerald . . . there is always some excitement even if you know that the discovery really may mean that you haven’t seen the item before. Someone else, perhaps a colleague, likely a predecessor, may have very well known about the book, letter, paper that you’ve just “discovered.”

Cover of L’Uomo Volante per Aria, per Acqua, e per Terra
Cover of L’Uomo Volante per Aria, per Acqua, e per Terra

So, several years ago, when I was perusing the part of our stacks that deals with aviation (the TLs for all you library-folk out there), I saw for the first time a nondescript book with a rough, brownish, handmade paper cover and pages that were clearly handmade, a book with a lot of age on it. When I opened up the book, this is what I saw: L’Uomo Volante per Aria, per Acqua, e per Terra. Novissima Invenzione di un Anonimo Italiano Dell’ Anno 1784. In Venizia Presso L’Amico Dell’ Autore.

Roughly translated: Man Flying over the air, water, and land. New Inventions/Innovation of an Anonymous Italian of the Year 1784. In Venice at a Friend of the Author’s.

Title page ofTitle page of L’Uomo Volante per Aria, per Acqua, e per Terra. Novissima Invenzione di un Anonimo Italiano Dell’ Anno 1784. In Venizia Presso L’Amico Dell’ Autore.
Title page of L’Uomo Volante per Aria, per Acqua, e per Terra. Novissima Invenzione di un Anonimo Italiano Dell’ Anno 1784. In Venizia Presso L’Amico Dell’ Autore.

Most translations of the title that I’ve seen are close variations of this. Could be “through air” or “on water” or “on land,” I suppose, but the date is clear; that it was published anonymously is clear; and it is completely clear that I’d never heard of this work. A quick check showed that no English translation exists. A handwritten note on the inside front cover, reads (translated), “The author is Count Carlo Bettoni.” Again, he was unknown to me, but a little bit of investigating confirmed that is known to be the author of the book . . . and that only six copies are listed in Worldcat. This is the kind of discovery, a felicitous thing, that drives curiosity! That the two languages of the book, Italian and mathematics, are languages in which I am less than fluent, did nothing to quell my desire to know more.

"Dual-language" spread from L’Uomo Volante
“Dual-language” spread from L’Uomo Volante

So many things to investigate! What do we know about Count Bettoni? A few quick searches on the book title indicate that an individual named Giuseppe Avanzini contributed the mathematical content of the book, but what do all those equations seek to describe? Even more tantalizing . . . Worldcat shows that four of the six copies listed also include illustrations or folding plates! Our copy does not. The year of publication, 1784 is, itself, interesting. Only in late 1782 did the Mongolfier brothers of France start their experiments with balloons, with the first untethered balloon flight with a human aboard occurring on 21 November 1783 in a system of their design. It is fair to say that the early and mid 1780s saw the craze of ballooning emerge—especially in Britain and France, but also in Italy—as a popular craze and a seductive possibility for scientific investigation. Apparently, Bettoni took part, but he also seems to have let his imagination range over . . . what, improved methods of transportation over land and sea, as well?

Bettoni was born in 1725 to a wealthy landowning family in what is now Brescia in the Lombardy region of north Italy. The aptly-named [?] Biographical Dictionary of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (1842–44) describes him as “a nobleman passionately fond of science, and a munificient patron of scientific men.” In 1768, he founded the Academy of Agrarian Brescia and, apparently, conducted experiments to protect mulberry trees from a rampant epidemic. In some circles, (see A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in All Parts of the World . . . Digested on a New Plan by John Pinkerton, vol. 4, 1809), and as a result of these experiments, Bettoni was credited with discovering a new silkworm! Bitten by the ballooning bug in 1783, Bettoni went to work with Avanzini on what would become L’Uomo Volante.

Born in 1753, Avanzini studied theology and mathematics at Brescia, while preparing himself for the priesthood. He came to Bettoni’s attention and had gained recognition for his skill as a mathematician by the time he collaborated with Bettoni on Thoughts on the Government of the Rivers (1782) a work that reported on the practice of planting specific kinds of trees along riverbanks to impede erosion and decrease the dangers of flooding. They would work together again after L’Uomo Volante on a large and unfinished project to produce a topographical map of the area surrounding Lake Garda, the largest lake in Italy located about halfway between Brescia and Verona. Whatever the nature of the collaboration between the two men, it is clear that the substance of the mathematical element Avanzini contributed to L’Uomo Volante and to other projects, was the work of a man who would go on to become professor of mathematics and, later, of physics and applied mathematics at the University of Padua. His work, primarily in the area of fluid dynamics, would earn him membership in the Italian National Academy of Sciences (Società Italiana). While I am not qualified to judge the quality and appropriateness of the mathematics in L’Uomo Volante, I would guess that it could be evaluated seriously.

The Enciclopedia Italiana di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti describes L’Uomo Volante, in one of the few characterizations I have found, as “miscuglio piuttosto audace di prosa scientifica e di progetti palesemente utopistici” (translated as “a rather bold mixture of scientific prose and blatantly utopian projects”). The Enciclopedia, also known as Treccani says that Bettoni, an “agricultural and technical aviation pioneer,” was the first to propose a dirigible balloon and a system of propulsion based on rowing. Other sources also suggest his is the first recorded version of an elongated airship, a spindle-shaped balloon, rather than the spherical balloons either in use or proposed at the time. (The use of the word “dirigible” suggests a rigid frame, but I do not know if this is part of the Bettoni/Avanzini design.)

Macchina volante per aria (Flying machine for the air, Tav. 2 (with permission:  Fondazione Istituto Internazionale di Storia Economica "F. Datini" Biblioteca in Linea)
Macchina volante per aria (Flying machine for the air, Tav. 2 (with permission: Fondazione Istituto Internazionale di Storia Economica “F. Datini”
Biblioteca in Linea)

Of course, there were plans for the more typical version, as well, but with some accommodation for steering and/or propulsion.

Macchina volante per aria (Flying machine for the air, Tav. 1 (with permission: Fondazione Istituto Internazionale di Storia Economica "F. Datini" Biblioteca in Linea)
Macchina volante per aria (Flying machine for the air, Tav. 1 (with permission: Fondazione Istituto Internazionale di Storia Economica “F. Datini”
Biblioteca in Linea)

There were also two drawings included for water travel, one involving an elongated system of paddles:

But now, when we come to land, well, this giant-sized hampster wheel really got my attention! Check it out!

Carro volante per terra, Flying chariot/cart/wagon for land (with permission: Fondazione Istituto Internazionale di Storia Economica "F. Datini")
Carro volante per terra, Flying chariot/cart/wagon for land (with permission: Fondazione Istituto Internazionale di Storia Economica “F. Datini”)

So, should we ignore this work that seems to have garnered little attention over a couple of centuries? Is it the work of a wealthy amateur scientist (read: crackpot) whose mathematician colleague lent his skills for a free ride? Is it to be taken seriously? Doesn’t someone want to translate it? Is this the basis for a thesis or dissertation just waiting, screaming, in fact, to be tackled? Surely, some student in the history of science and technology wants to rediscover Signori Bettoni and Avanzini. Ladies and Gents, Studente e Studentesse . . . step right up!

Click here for the Full Text of L’uomo volante per aria, per acqua e per terra. (Will open in a new window.)

The Definition of Processing as Told From an Empathetic Intern

I started working with Special Collections in September. I wasn’t sure what to really expect. I had previously done artifact analyses at my high school, but the work I have done here has been a bit different. The majority of collections I have worked on with Special Collections are either Civil War related or Engineering related. Both types had their own quirks. The Civil War soldiers and writers thought it was necessary to store hair in their letters and the engineers took few good pictures, though both were surprisingly good at sketching.

 A letter from a Civil War Soldier in 1862. Collection Finding Aid:http://search.vaheritage.org/vivaxtf/view?docId=vt/viblbv01811.xml
A letter from a Civil War Soldier in 1862. Collection Finding Aid:http://search.vaheritage.org/vivaxtf/view?docId=vt/viblbv01811.xml

As I read through each collection, these people’s lives, I consistently learned something new. I organized and processed a collection by a Chemical Engineer from Alaska who produced rocket fuel and science fiction. His name was John D. Clark. In addition, I organized the files of an  Aerospace Engineer named Blake W. Corson, Jr. I found these two men particularly inspiring because they both believed it was their responsibility to serve the people around them with the skills they had. In engineering classes we are taught many things, part of the curriculum are ethics. Part of ethics are to use the skills  you have to better the world. Both Clark and Corson embodied these ethics and consistently strove to make the communities surrounding them better. Corson, for example, created multiple documents detailing a better waste management system for Newport News, Virginia, that he eventually mailed to President Jimmy Carter. As I uncovered more documentation on these men I learned a great deal about their lives and I grew to admire them.

Correspondence Receipts from the Blake W. Corson, Jr. Papers (In Processing)

I was also reminded of my on mortality, many of the people who I now hold in high esteem are dead. Every collection I have processed was for someone who died.  Many were eloquent in the way they worded their thoughts others went from talking about an execution to the minced pies they were eating. In my opinion some of the soldiers were heroes and some of them weren’t and some of them just wanted to see their families one more time. The engineers are heroes in their own way as well. Both were key cogs in the space agency machine working towards the goal of getting rockets off of the ground and making better aircraft for the military.  All are dead. Sometimes I do not notice that these people are buried somewhere near their families or in an undiscovered grave waiting for the next Civil War historian to discover them. When I remember these things I remember why I sit at a desk for a minimum of two hours at a time writing a person’s name once or even a hundred times. The idea is that this person will be remembered and their distant relatives might find their names. They will be found as a relic from the past that a family can reminisce over or claim as their heritage. I am glad that I have been a part of that process, even if only for a little while.

Apollo Escape Craft Sketch from the Blake W. Corson Jr. collection (In Processing)
Apollo Escape Craft from the Blake W. Corson, Jr. Collection (In Processing)

Since I have talked a lot about the things that I have processed I want to give you an idea of work I do. The steps seem repetitive, but I actually find the work relaxing and remedial. As a processing intern, my responsibilities have been relatively straight forward and simple. I wanted to end on these steps because they are the dictionary definition of what I do as opposed to my personal definition of what I do.

Step 1: Look at files. Read the files if they do not span longer than a cubic foot of box.

Step 2: Organize and catalog each document in the collection. Personally I color code with plastic clips.

Step 3: Review organization and file order, reorder.

Step 4: Label each folder with a box number and folder number.

Step 5: Create a resource on the collection.

Step 6: Create the appropriate notes.

Step 7: Begin again.

By Kaitlyn Britt

The First Rochester Conference   on High Energy Physics . . . . . . . .   A Unique Discovery

Typescript Cover for Manuscript Proceedings and Notes, First Rochester Conference on High Energy Physics
Typescript Cover for Manuscript Proceedings and Notes, First Rochester Conference on High Energy Physics
Robert Marshak in 1979
Robert Marshak in 1979

Original materials. One-of-a-kind documents. This is what one expects to find in Special Collections. Any Special Collections. All Special Collections. It is our business. But every once in a while, you come across a unique document and, “surely,” you say to yourself, “there must be another copy of it somewhere.” Yes, it is unique because it is a particular individual’s copy, maybe with his or her annotations, but this can’t possibly be the only copy that exists! And then you find out, maybe, it is. Could the proceedings from the first Rochester Conference on High Energy Physics, part of the Robert E. Marshak Papers, 1947-1990, be such a document?

The first Conference on High Energy Physics to be held in Rochester, NY took place on 16 December 1950. It was organized largely by Robert Marshak, then the new chair of the Physics Department at the University of Rochester. Marshak had started at Rochester in 1939 and, following the outbreak of the war, worked first in Boston on furthering the development of radar and then, in Montreal, contributing to the British effort to produce an atomic bomb. In 1944, he joined the American atomic effort at Los Alamos, where he was a deputy group leader in theoretical physics. With the end of the war, however, inquiry into the realm of nuclear and particle physics no longer needed to be restricted to its practical aspects.

That first meeting in Rochester followed by 20 months the last of the three Shelter Island conferences that had been organized by Robert Oppenheimer between 1947 and 1949. Marshak, who attended these meetings and at which he first proposed the influential two-meson theory, described them as having been “limited to a small number of theorists, with a couple of ‘token’ experimentalists,”* nearly all American. The goal for the Shelter Island meetings, which involved approximately 25 attendees, was to assess the post-war status of particle physics and to provide an outlook for future developments. Marshak’s vision was to invite a more equal mix of theorists, accelerator experimentalists, and cosmic ray experimentalists and to make the meeting truly international. The increased emphasis on the experimental aspect of the field reflected not only Marshak’s interests, but also the fact that five new high-energy accelerators had been built in the U.S. since the end of the war—including one at Rochester—and they were producing results.

An early proposal for the Rochester conference was sent to the University of Rochester’s provost, Donald Gilbert, on 11 January 1949, before the last of the three Shelter Island meetings. The proposal was for a five-day event that included a one-day trip to the accelerator facilities at Cornell. It came with a request to the university for $7500. A letter written by Marshak to Joseph C. Wilson, head of The Haloid Company (which would become Xerox Corp.), dated 22 January 1950, makes clear that funding for the proposal would need to come from private sources.

Conference Invitation, 29 November 1950
Conference Invitation, 29 November 1950

Click here to see Invitation, Annotated Attendee List, & Attendee Sign-in. (Will Open in New Window)

By the fall of 1950, the conference was planned as a one-day event and scheduled for 16 December. The Physics building on campus would remain open the following day for post-conference meetings/ presentations and Professor Wolfgang Panofsky extended his visit for a week to include a public lecture and special colloquia on new frontiers and recent experiments. A first round of invitations to general attendees may have been sent out in late October or early November, as the earliest acceptance among the materials is dated 7 November. Another general invitation in the collection is dated 29 November. Invitations were sent to approximately 100 top physicists as well to interested representatives of local industries, including Haloid, which provided financial support for the conference.

Interestingly, in a hand-written reply to a request that he participate in some of the post-conference discussion, Richard Feynman wrote:

Richard Feynman's Reply, 13 December 1950
Richard Feynman’s Reply, 13 December 1950

O.K. I’ll stick around a couple of days more and talk things over. We’ll worry about what the lectures are later. In the meantime something general like ‘Field Theory’ or something will do as a title I guess. You make the title, I’ll talk on it.

Three sessions were scheduled for the day-long program: a morning session dealing with experiments with nucleons, chaired by Abraham Pais; an afternoon session on experiments with mesons, chaired by Robert Oppenheimer; and an evening session chaired by Hans Bethe on experiments with photons and electrons. In a June 1970 article for “Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,” Marshak wrote:

There were three sessions of invited papers at this first Rochester Conference, chiefly experimental reports on nucleon elastic scattering and meson production by nucleons and photons. Theoretical discussion on the experimental findings was useful, but I do not recall any breakthroughs.

Scientific Program, Original, page 1
Scientific Program, Original, page 1

Click here to See the Scientific Program for the Conference, both Original and Annotated. (Will Open in New Window)

The manuscript of the proceedings begins with a 6-page summary of the morning session written up by R.S., possibly R. Scalettar, a colleague of Marshak’s from Rochester’s Physics Department. What follows are approximately 120 pages of marked-up typescript, a transcript of the day’s presentations and discussion. As is clear from the manuscript, the day’s events were recorded on audio tape, which provided the basis for the transcription. (The fate of the original tape is anyone’s guess.) In addition to notes on various pages regarding “reel” and “side” numbers, the following note is found very early in the transcription of the morning presentation:

about 3 minutes of Ramsey’s speech is not available to us at this point because the plug to the recording machine was kicked out of wall.

Is it comforting—or, perhaps, simply humbling—to recognize that our knowledge of this conference of the most esteemed representatives of the most advanced technology of the day depended, in part, on the recognition that an electric plug had been kicked out of the wall?

There is also the following note from the person producing the transcript:

(broke tape at this point, after spending nearly two hours learning operation of machine and taking notes. It took from 30 to 45 minutes to learn the machine and listen to the speech once and the rest of the time was taking notes, a few words at a time and rewinding frequently when I couldn’t keep up or missed a word. B.)

There is some indication that written proceedings were to be distributed to the participants in the conference. It remains unclear whether this was done, but it appears doubtful. John Polkinghorne, in his 1989 book, Rochester Roundabout: The Story of High Energy Physics, states unequivocally, “No Proceedings are publicly available of the first Conference.” (p.198). I have found no others. In his 1986 book, Inward Bound: Of Matter and Forces in the Physical World, Abraham Pais, a participant in the 1950 conference, notes his thanks to Robert Marshak for “making available to me an unedited transcript of that meeting.” (note, p.461). These are, presumably, copies of the typescript held here in the Marshak Papers. Lastly, in June 2014, a set of the proceedings of the First through Seventh Rochester Conferences on High Energy Physics was sold through Bonhams auction house. The description specifies:

Nuclear Physics, Rochester Conferences: Bonhams Auctioneers
Nuclear Physics, Rochester Conferences: Bonhams Auctioneers

Vol. I: mimeographed typescript draft with ms corrections, in 3-ring binder, with ms note to Abraham Pais from Robert Marshak, founder of the Rochester Conferences. (http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/21652/lot/130/ last viewed 10 July 2015)

Can we presume that this is the copy Pais refers to in his book? Are there any others? Perhaps not.

Marshak’s initial conference grew to become the event of lasting and international significance that he envisioned. The Third Conference, held December 18–20, 1952, had 150 participants, had governmental support for the first time, and included scientists from Great Britain, Italy, Australia, France, Holland, and Japan, among other countries. The Sixth Conference, held in April 1956, saw the attendance of the first Soviet delegation. The following year, 300 scientists from 24 countries attended the Seventh Conference, which ran for 5 days. It had become what John Wheeler, physicist from Princeton, called the “premier opportunity for the physicists of the world to exchange ideas.” After the Seventh Conference, the newly organized High Energy Commission of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) decided to establish a three-way rotation for the annual conference with the 1958 meeting in Geneva and the 1959 meeting in Kiev. In 1960, the Tenth Conference—lasting eight days and with 36 scientific secretaries also participating—was back in Rochester, but for the last time before the officially named International Conference on High Energy Physics left permanently for more varied venues and a biennial schedule.

Robert Marshak joins faculty at Virginia Tech, 1 Sept. 1979
Robert Marshak joins faculty at Virginia Tech, 1 Sept. 1979

In 1970 Marshak left Rochester to become president of the City College of New York, and in the fall of 1979 became a University Distinguished Professor of Physics at Virginia Tech. He retired as Emeritus University Distinguished Professor in 1987. Robert E. Marshak died on 23 December 1992.

Although the conference that began with Marshak’s small one-day event is now being held around the world, it is still commonly referred to as the Rochester conference. The proceedings of that first meeting are now publicly available, likely for the first time.

First Rochester Conference, Manuscript Notes and Proceedings, page 1
First Rochester Conference, Manuscript Notes and Proceedings, page 1

Click here for the Full Text of the Proceedings and Notes of the First Rochester Conference on High Energy Physics, held 16 December 1950. (Will open in a new window.)


All of this material and more will eventually find its way to this department’s platform for digital content, Special Collections Online, but until then, for this material, this post will have to serve in its place.
*Marshak, Robert E., “Scientific impact of the first decade of the Rochester conferences (1950–1960,” in Pions to Quarks: Particle Physics in the 1950s, Laurie M. Brown, Dresden, and Hoddeson, eds., New York: Cambridge University Press, 198