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Archives at The Museum of Flight

Robert Short Collection

Identifier: 1991-01-07
The Robert Short Collection is comprised of materials related to Short's brief time in China and his death in 1932. The bulk of the collection relates primarily to the work done in the years after his death by his brother, Edward Short, to identify Robert's grave and preserve his memory, as well as documents the relationship between Nokiji Ikuta, the man who shot Robert down, and the Short family.

The collection contains a small amount of personal documents of Robert Short's, including two licenses and a check. There is also a check to Mrs. Short, as recompense for her son's death. Correspondence, in the form of letters and holiday greeting cards, includes remembrances of Robert and an ongoing communication between Ikuta and the Short family.

The collection also includes twenty-eight (28) photographs. Many have captions identifying people, locations, and dates. Identified people include Robert Short, Ed Short, Nokiji Ikuta, Dr. and Mrs. Izumi, and [Sumie?] Shimoyama. There are several black-and-white portraits of Robert and three (3) black-and-white snapshots, including Short standing next to a Fleet (Canada) Model K, circa 1929. Additionally there are three (3) snapshots of Short's shrine in China. One black-and-white snapshot depicts the right side view of a Boeing Model 218 (Tail number X66W) parked at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington. Additionally, fourteen (14) color snapshots depict Edward Short's 1977 meeting with Nokiji Ikuta in Hawaii. Two (2) photographs, one in color and one in black-and-white, feature the Japanese painting of Kannon Bosatsu [Buddhist Goddess of mercy] that Nokiji Ikuta mentions in his first letter to Edward Short, as well as a snapshot of Ikuta's personal shrine to Kannon.

There is also a small amount of ephemera, such as souvenir postcards, travel brochures, and a tourist map of Beijing, from Ed Short's trip to Japan, as well as biographical information about Robert Short, including a one hundred forty-two (142) page biography of Short by an unidentified author [possibly Mrs. Short?] and an article by Anne F. Thurston about his life and death.

At the end of the collection are photocopies of articles and clippings related to Short's death, his funeral in China, and a photocopy of the aircraft record for the Boeing Model 218 that Short was flying when he was shot down by Ikuta. Additionally, there is a full issue of The China Press, dated April 20, 1932, that features a front page article regarding the upcoming funeral of Robert Short.


  • 1932-1987


Language of Materials

The majority of materials are in English. Some materials are in both Chinese and English.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research and is accessible in the Dahlberg Research Center by appointment. 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.


0.5 Cubic Feet (1 half-width letter size document box and 1 flat box)


Robert McCawley Short (1904-1932) was born in Steilacoom, Washington and worked in China as chief instructor at China's School for Military Air Tactics from 1931-1932. The collection contains licenses, financial documents, correspondence, photographs, ephemera, biographical materials, and clippings related to Short's brief time in China. Additionally, the collection has photographs, ephemera, and correspondence related to the identification and preservation of his memorial.

Biographical Note: Robert M. Short

Robert McCawley Short was born in 1904 in Steilacoom, Washington. After school he trained as an Army Cadet and was eventually granted a commission as a 2nd lieutenant. He had a short and unsuccessful stint as the manager of the Pierce County (Wash.) Airport, but after losing this job he was offered an airmail route between Shanghai and Hangzhou, China. There is speculation that it must have been with the complicity of the War Department that Short went to China, due to his position as a 2nd lieutenant in the Army Reserve, but there is no real evidence of any conspiracy.

Short left for China in February of 1931 on the steamship President Cleveland. Upon arrival in China, however, he found the airmail planes in a state of intense disrepair, and refused to fly them. He eventually landed with the L. E. Gale Company, who marketed American planes in Asia. In his capacity as a plane salesman, he traveled all over Asia selling war planes to various governments on the continent. He formed a cordial relationship with T. V. Soong, the Chinese minister of finance, who appointed him advisor to the Chinese Air Force and hired him as chief instructor at China's School for Military Air Tactics.

In the middle of escalating tensions between China and Japan, Short received a new Boeing Model 218, which he then prepared for delivery to Nanking. He took off on February 18, 1932. Short was reported to have encountered Japanese fighters on this flight, and supposedly shot one down. He did successfully arrive in Nanking but ended up stranded in the city after delivering the plane; the city was at a standstill over fears of Japanese attack.

On February 22nd, Short watched as a train was loaded with refugees attempted to evacuate some citizens from Nanking, whereupon the Japanese immediately flew over and began attacking the train and other civilian targets in the area. This prompted Short to climb into the Boeing plane he had just delivered and fly out to defend the Chinese civilians. Accounts of the ensuing battle differ, but it is certain that Short was outnumbered at least 3 to 1 and the leader of the attack, Susumu Kotani, did die of injuries sustained during the battle. Robert Short was shot down and died of his injuries, which he sustained both during the attack and in the crash. Chinese officials rushed to the town of Szuhou to recover the crashed plane and Robert Short’s body. Short was given a hero’s funeral in Shanghai, which was attended but tens of thousands of Chinese citizens, many Chinese officials, and his own mother and brother.

The Chinese hailed Short as a hero and built a monument at his gravesite in Szuhou, but the monument was destroyed during the Mao era in China. The citizens of Szuhou remade the memorial in 1986 (though the original gravesite is lost), and it still stands as of 2014.


Biography derived from collection materials.
Historical Note: Sino-Japanese Conflict The Sino-Japanese Conflict of 1931-1933 was one of a series of conflicts which took place between the Empire of Japan and the Republic of China between the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) and World War II (1939-1945).


No further accruals are expected.

Related Archival Materials at Other Institutions

A small collection of photographs and one manuscript related to Robert Short are available at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma, Washington. Also available online at


Guide to the Robert Short Collection
Completed - Level 4
L. Zaborowski, J.Parent
2014, 2018
Description rules
Language of description
Edition statement
3rd Edition

Revision Statements

  • 2018: This finding aid was updated to reflect the addition of subject terms and to reflect updated DACS and Museum of Flight standards.
  • November 2018: Finding aid migrated to ArchivesSpace.

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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