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Archives at The Museum of Flight

Subseries C. Glass Plates, circa 1900s-1930s

With more than 229 cubic feet of material, including prints, negatives, transparencies and scrapbooks, the photographic component of the collection makes up the vast majority of the collection and is an incredible resource of documentary images of aircraft. The series is subdivided into five subseries: aircraft files, non-aircraft files, glass plates, scrapbooks and albums, and the Sommerich collection. The aircraft files are then subdivided by format: prints, negatives, and transparencies. The non-aircraft files consist solely of prints.

The aircraft files are extremely extensive, consisting of nearly 210 cubic feet of material (170 cubic feet or more than 102,000 prints; 30 cubic feet or more than 40,000 negatives; four cubic feet of transparencies; and about three cubic feet of oversize items). Bowers made an attempt to document a wide variety of aircraft, from the beginning of aviation through the end of the twentieth century, and took a strong interest in gliders, homebuilt aircraft and experimental aircraft. American manufacturers, especially Boeing, are much more strongly represented than foreign ones such as Embraer or Airbus. Having served overseas during World War II in the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater, during which time he pursued his interest in photography, it would follow that images from that era would be in the collection. However, some of the correspondence references his difficulty in obtaining and developing the photographs that he took there. A small amount have been located scattered in the Negatives sub-series, but not many images from this time period are present.

While many of the images were taken by Bowers, many were also collected from fellow aviation enthusiasts and historians. While an exact count of the traded photographs in the collection has not been conducted, it would be reasonable to estimate that about half of the collection consists of collected images, as opposed to original photographs taken by Bowers. He discovered and located like-minded aviation historians in Germany and elsewhere, including Heinz “Heiny” Nowarra and others. The collection is strong, therefore, in containing often unique negatives and prints, many of them originals, including German development of Zeppelin dirigibles. Gordon S. Williams is another notable aviation photographer with whom Bowers traded frequently and whose work can be found scattered in the collection. Photographs by U.S. military branches, NASA, and various manufacturers are also present in the collection. Negatives purchased from Eugene Sommerich were maintained as a discrete set of materials rather than being intermingled with the rest of Bowers’ collection, and therefore they are described in a separate subseries.

The print, negative, and transparency files are all arranged using naming conventions and organization following the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s (NASM) Directory of Airplanes. Some aircraft have extensive representation, such as the Boeing 700 series aircraft, and therefore are further subdivided with general folders as well as folders on detailed views (with images such as cabin interiors), and on commercial airlines with images showing liveries. A couple other subjects depicting aircraft (air shows and wrecks) are mixed in alphabetically; other subjects such as people and factories, are filed in the non-aircraft files subseries.

The prints are predominantly 8x10-inch black-and-white prints, though some smaller prints and approximately 2,100 color prints are scattered throughout. TMOF staff and volunteers verified Bowers' identifications. In total, there are approximately 13,800 files. A spreadsheet file-level inventory has been created for this sub-series and is available upon request.

The negatives consist almost exclusively of medium format black-and-white negatives. This series is currently undergoing processing. Negatives are being rehoused into acid-free envelopes. Staff and volunteers are transcribing the labels from the original envelopes onto the archival ones; some labels were highly descriptive and some less so. Staff and volunteers are also verifying the identifications while re-sleeving. An inventory has not yet been created for this sub-series.

There are approximately four cubic feet of transparencies and three cubic feet of oversize items which have not been fully processed or inventoried yet.

The non-aircraft files sub-series is relatively small at about nine cubic feet or about 2,800 items, principally comprised of 8x10-inch black-and-white prints. The files are arranged alphabetically by subject. Many of the files are biographical in nature with images of famous aviators. A variety of other subjects are included such as: airfields, non-aircraft projects at Boeing, engines, aircraft carriers, wrecks, models, and groups such as the Experimental Aircraft Association or specific military groups. Some of these files include photocopies of images from the aircraft files to cross-reference subjects. A spreadsheet file-level inventory has been created for this sub-series and is available upon request.

There are 378 glass plates (six cubic feet), including both negatives and transparencies, which Bowers presumably purchased or collected from others, likely multiple sources. Because they have a variety of subjects, the archivists placed them in their own sub-series rather than as a sub-set of the aircraft files. Original order was maintained. The first 82 images largely relate to Glenn Curtiss’s and other aviators’ early flights at Lake Keuka near Hammondsport, New York. A few more images are from the same time period and location but are not aviation related. More than fifty images are of balloons and dirigibles, including scenes from World War I. The remainder of the images are largely side or three-quarters-view images of early aircraft parked in fields. The Curtiss JN-4 Jenny is especially well represented. The glass plates are a variety of sizes (4x5 inches, 5x7 inches, 8x6 inches, and 8x10 inches) and are black-and-white. Some images are original negatives but many are copy negatives taken from prints or other sources. Thirty-one 3x4-inch lantern slides are also present including one in color.

Similarly, the scrapbooks and albums subseries consists of materials that Bowers collected from various sources and include a variety of subjects. The scrapbooks and albums include photographs as well as clippings and ephemera. They seem to primarily relate to early aviation, from the 1910s-1920s, with several items related to German aviation. This series, which is about five cubic feet, has not yet been fully processed or inventoried.

The Eugene M. Sommerich collection is a discrete set of materials that Bowers purchased from Lieutenant Colonel Eugene (Gene) Sommerich. At about two cubic feet, it consists of 1,826 negatives, all medium format and black-and-white. Surprisingly, this acquisition was not described at all in the correspondence series, so little information regarding the circumstances of the transfer of the collection remain. The negatives have been rehoused and organized following the NASM Directory of Airplanes but have not yet been inventoried.


  • circa 1900s-1930s

Language of Materials

The majority of materials are in English. Some materials are in German, French and Italian.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research but has not been fully processed. Access to the collection may be limited or may require additional processing time. For more information contact us.


6 Cubic Feet (Six boxes)

The Museum of Flight | 9404 E. Marginal Way South | Seattle WA 98108-4097 | 206-764-5874
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