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Archives at The Museum of Flight

Walt Sobol Photographs and Negatives

Identifier: 2018-10-02
The Walt Sobol Photographs and Negatives is a collection comprised of 2,169 black-and-white photographic prints and 1,193 photographic negatives taken by Sobol during his career in aircraft manufacturing in China, Burma, India and the U.S. from the late 1920s through 1950s. The photographs are a mix of personal images, scenes of daily life in the various places he traveled, and documentation of the aircraft manufacturing industry in Missouri, China and India.

The photographs are arranged following Sobol's original order, chronologically by year with groupings by location and subject. About 358 prints and 135 negatives are from Sobol's early career in Missouri from about 1928-1931 and include images of Barling Aircraft Factory, Nicholas Beazeley Aircraft Company, Parks Air College, and St. Joseph's Air Service as well as unidentified family and friends.

The bulk of the photographs (more than 1,500 prints and 500 negatives) are from Sobol's time spent in China from about 1934-1942. Many of these depict daily life and scenic shots of various locations within China, including Chengtu (Chengdu), Hankow (Hankou), Hongchou (Hangzhou), Kunming (Kunming Shi), Kweilin (Guilin), Lowing (Loiwing), and Nanking (Nanjing). Camco facilities and personnel are depicted in many images as well as various aircraft in production and completed. Some images depict aircraft accidents and the aftermath of Japanese air raids. There are some formal group portraits and official Camco images, but most of the images are casual snapshots. Note that spellings of place names given in folder titles follow the spellings used by Sobol in his identifications on the prints.

About 85 prints and 75 negatives originate from Sobol's time working in India and include people, facilities, and aircraft associated with Hindustan Aircraft Company as well as a few related to rail coaches. There are also images (more than 100 prints and additional unsorted negatives) from Sobol's travels in places such as Burma, Hong Kong, Saigon, Colombo, the Suez Canal, London, Paris, and various locations on the East Coast of the United States, as well as scenes aboard ships while traveling between the U.S. and Asia.

Identified aircraft in the images include the Curtiss A-12 Shrike, Keystone bomber, and the Barling NB-3. Some of the identified people include K.C. Chang, P.Y. Cheng, C. Foo, Murf Garrold, Carl Long, Jack Olson, Lance Schultz, Walt Sobol, Gilbert Tsai, and Ned Warren.

The sizes of prints vary from 1x1" to 8x10", with a couple of small panoramic images (4.5x11.75") included. The bulk of the photographs are 3x5" or smaller. Many images include identifying information (often partial, such as first or last name only) provided by Sobol and/or his daughter. A small amount of photographs have stamps on the front, in Chinese characters. Some duplication occurs.

In addition to the visual materials there is a small amount of textual material in the collection related to Sobol's career and time in China and India. Materials include business cards of Sobol's and ones collected from his associates; business and personal correspondence; assorted pieces of printed ephemera including menus; and some of Sobol's identification cards. A few pieces of the textual items are photocopies of original documents retained by his family.


  • 1926-1959


Language of Materials

Some materials are in Chinese characters and Burmese. The bulk of the collection is in English.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research. Not all of the negatives have been organized and rehoused. Access to the collection may be limited or may require additional processing time. For more information contact us.

Conditions Governing Use

The Museum of Flight (TMOF) Archives is the owner of the physical materials in the archives and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. Written permission must be obtained from TMOF archives before any publication use. TMOF does not necessarily hold copyright to all of the materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from copyright owners. Consult repository for more details.


2.05 Cubic Feet (3 letter-size full-width document boxes, 1 legal-size half-width document box, 2 card boxes and 1 oversize folder)

Biographical Note: Walt Sobol

Walt Sobol worked in aircraft manufacturing in the U.S., China and India from the late 1920s through the 1950s.

Walt Sobol was born August 2, 1901 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. In the late 1920s and early 1930s he lived and worked in Missouri as a steel worker and welder primarily in the aircraft manufacturing industry, with time spent at American Eagle Aircraft Company from 1926-1927, Nicholas-Beazley Airplane Company from about 1927-1929, and then Barling Aircraft, Inc. from about 1929-1931. Then he worked for B/J Aircraft Corporation and the Glenn L. Martin Company in Maryland during 1931-1932 and at Chance Vought Corporation from 1932 until 1934.

Then, in June of 1934, he left for China and began working for Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (Camco) as Superintendent of welding and manufacturing. He was in China with Camco until 1942. During that time, Camco had to relocate its factory five times due to Japanese bombings.

From 1942 until 1959 Sobol lived in India working for Hindustan Aircraft Ltd. in Bangalore which manufactured both aircraft and railcars. He held several positions during his time at the company including Plant Engineer, Welding and Manufacturing Superintendent, and Assistant Factory Manager.

In 1959 Sobol returned to the U.S. and worked in a missile facility in Hanford, Washington. Sobol died August 19, 1993 in Seattle, Washington.

Biographical sketch derived from donor information, collection materials, and records on


The materials are organized in a chronological manner and grouped by location and subject. Unidentified prints are listed at the end of the collection as are unsorted negatives. Physically, the prints are in boxes one through three; textual materials are in box four; and negatives are in boxes five and six.

Custodial History

The photographs had been in the possession of a family friend in India until about 1994 at which point they were returned to the Sobol's children who later donated them to the Museum.

Related Materials

The Museum of Flight Archives has multiple accessions (2018-00-00-3, 2018-00-00-6, 2019-10-24, 2021-08-26-A) related to Julius A. Barr who also worked in the aviation industry in China in the 1930s.

The George B. Arnold Personal Papers at the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives also contains materials realted to CAMCO operations in China in the 1930s.

Processing Note

The collection donor, Sobol's daughter, had grouped the materials largely following Sobol's original organization, by location and year. This organization has largely been retained, though the groupings were refined further by city and/or subject matter. Some negatives had been stored wtih corresponding prints but the bulk of the negatives had been stored separately. During processing many negatives were matched to corresponding prints. They are listed together in the inventory but are stored separately for preservation purposes. The bulk of the remaining negatives were roughly organized by location but have not yet been matched to corresponding folders of prints. Some negatives may not have corresponding prints at all.
Guide to the Walt Sobol Photographs and Negatives
Completed - Level 3
J.Parent, N. Davis
Description rules
Language of description
Edition statement
2nd edition

Revision Statements

  • 2022 January : Addendum added to collection; arrangement refined

Repository Details

Part of the The Museum of Flight Archives Repository

9404 East Marginal Way South
Seattle Washington 98108-4097

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