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Archives at The Museum of Flight

Hamilton Coolidge World War I Collection

Identifier: 2000-10-16-101
The Hamilton Coolidge World War I Collection contains materials related to the wartime experience of Captain Hamilton Coolidge, a World War I pilot with the United States Army Air Service. Most of the collection contains official military documents related to Captain Coolidge and his squadron, such as memos and orders from Headquarters and his personnel record.

The collection also contains some photographs, a plane manual, and awards and certificates granted to Captain Coolidge. Though a published volume of his correspondence is included with this collection, only one telegram (from the Coolidge family) and one letter (from Douglas Campbell) can be found in this collection. The location of the remainder of Coolidge's correspondence, if it still exists, is unknown.

Please note that some of the items in Folder 14 contain graphic images of wartime casualties.


  • circa 1917-1925

Language of Materials

All materials are in 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 full width legal size document box and 2 oversize folders)


Hamilton "Ham" Coolidge (1895-1918) was one of many young men from wealthy New England families who enlisted during World War I. The collection contains materials related to Captain Coolidge's service a pilot with the U.S. Army Air Service 94th Aero Squadron. Coolidge achieved Ace status, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, and was killed in action.

Biographical Note

Hamilton “Ham” Coolidge was born on September 1, 1895 in Brookline, Massachusetts to Professor J. Randolph Coolidge, Jr. and Mary Hamilton (Hill) Coolidge. He attended Groton School (Class of 1915) and was Senior Prefect, captain of the football team and a pitcher on the baseball team at the school. He then attended Harvard University with his close friend Quentin Roosevelt, the youngest son of President Theodore Roosevelt. Coolidge was Vice President of the freshman class, a member of the freshmen baseball team, and a member of the 1916 varsity football team while at Harvard. Coolidge would attend various flight training camps over the summers during college; in 1915 he attended a Reserve Officers' Training Corps camp in Plattsburg, New York and in 1916 he attended the Curtiss Fly School in Buffalo, New York.

When it started to look increasingly likely that the United States would be entering World War I, Quentin Roosevelt and Coolidge, along with their friend Douglas Campbell, all dropped out of Harvard and applied to join the Army. Coolidge officially entered United States service in March of 1917 at Key West, Florida, where he enlisted in the Aviation Section of the U.S. Signal Corps. Once the United States officially entered World War I, Coolidge was sent to ground school at the School of Military Aeronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and graduated on June 5, 1917.

The Aviation Section of the U.S. Signal Corps (which eventually became the U.S. Air Force) was full of young men from wealthy families looking for a bit of adventure, so Coolidge and Quentin Roosevelt were not alone in their persistence to join the war effort. The so-called "Millionaire's Unit" that flew for the United States Navy in World War I was a similar outfit, though the men in it were from Yale instead of Harvard.

Coolidge embarked for France on July 23, 1917 and was initially stationed at the American Expeditionary Force Headquarters in Paris, France. He received his commission as a 1st Lieutenant on September 29, 1917 and was sent to the 3rd Aviation Instruction Center in Issoudun, France. He served as a squadron commander and then transitioned into a role as a test pilot, flying 8 to 10 times a day.

Coolidge made it to the front when he was assigned to the 94th Aero Squadron on June 16, 1918. The Squadron was nicknamed "The Hat in the Ring Gang" to commemorate the United States entering World War I and "throwing its hat in the ring." Their insignia consisted of Uncle Sam's red, white and blue top hat going through a red ring. The pilots in the squadron became some of the most decorated flyers of the war, with six pilots earning the Distinguished Service Cross and five men earning Ace status. As a group, the pilots downed 70 enemy aircraft during the war.

Coolidge participated in many missions while stationed in Toul, France with the 94th and was promoted to Captain on October 3, 1918. On October 27, he was killed in action when his SPAD XIII (S.13) took a direct hit from an anti-aircraft shell near Grandpré, France. Fellow pilot Eddie Rickenbacker and a priest rode out to the spot, which was just a few yards inside their lines. They were able to recover the body and give it a proper burial. Rickenbacker made note of the ordeal in his memoirs:

Early next morning I secured a Staff car and proceeded up to the front to find the spot where lay the last remains of my dear friend. We reached Montfaucon and turned northwest around the edge of the Argonne Forest, passing on the way the wreckage of my red-nosed Fokker just outside the town of Exermont. Arrived to within a mile of our front line, sheltered all along the road by hanging curtains of burlap and moss, part of which had been left by the Huns and partly our own concoction of camouflage, we were halted by an officer who told me we could move no further without coming under shell fire from the enemy guns.

Abandoning the car at the roadside, we skirted the edge of woods that adjoined the road and made our way on foot to the flat lands just across the Aire River from the opposite town of Grand Pre. And here in the bend of the Aire, almost in full sight of the enemy, we came upon the body of Captain Coolidge. A lieutenant in infantry who had seen the whole spectacle and had marked down the spot where Ham's body had fallen, accompanied us and it was through his very kind offices that we reached the exact spot without much searching. The Chaplain of his regiment likewise accompanied us. And there, not sixty yards behind our front lines, we watched the men dig a grave. The Chaplain administered the last sad rites. Amid the continuous whines of passing shells we laid the poor mangled body of Captain Hamilton Coolidge in its last resting place. Over the grave was placed a Cross suitably engraved with his name, rank and the date of his tragic death. A wreath of flowers was laid at the foot of the cross. Then with uncovered head I took a photograph of the grave, which later was sent "back home" to the family who mourned for one of the most gallant gentlemen who ever fought in France (From pages 342-343 of Fighting the Flying Circus by Edward V. Rickenbacker, Stokes Company, 1919).

Coolidge was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Croix de Guerre with Palms, a citation from General John J. Pershing, and his bachelor's degree from Harvard (Class of 1919). He achieved Ace status and is officially credited with eight kills.

He was survived by his parents and seven siblings, and the family did much after the war to commemorate the man they had lost. Coolidge's mother published a book of his wartime correspondence in 1919 and was on the publication committee for another book about World War I airmen from New England. His grave is still in the field outside of Chevrières; one of his brothers renovated the site in 1984 and the monument is still maintained by the Mayor of Chevrières. Records do not indicate which brother conducted the restoration, though it was likely Oliver or Roger. The Coolidge family was as follows:


Joseph Randolph Coolidge, Jr. (birth and death dates unknown)

Mary Hamilton (Hill) Coolidge (1862-1952)


Joseph Randolph Coolidge III (1887-1936)

Julia Coolidge (1889-1961)

Mary Eliza Coolidge (1890-1935)

John Gardner Coolidge (1897-1984)

Eleonora Randolph Coolidge (1899-1984)

Oliver Hill Coolidge (1900-1992)

Roger Sherman Coolidge (1904-1995)

Further reading:

New England Aviators, 1914-1918. Volume 1. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1919.

Coolidge, Hamilton. Letters of an American Airman, Being the War Record of Captain Hamilton Coolidge, USA 1917-1918. Boston: Privately Printed, 1919.

Frey, Royal D. "A.E.F. Combat Airfields and Monuments in France, WWI." Journal of the American Aviation Historical Society 17.3 (Fall 1972): 194-200. Print.

"ISOB Coolidge." American War Memorials Overseas. American War Memorials Overseas, Inc., 2008. Web. 15 October 2014.


The following archival items are currently on display in the World War I Gallery of the Personal Courage Wing: American Expeditionary Force Pilot's Identification Card for Hamilton Coolidge; Original copy of Special Orders, No. 183, December 10, 1917; Memo, No. 47, September 30, 1918.

Custodial History

Please note that this collection came to the Museum as part of the Museum's acquisition of the Champlin Fighter Museum (Mesa, Arizona). It is unknown as to how Champlin acquired these materials. The collection seems to have been assembled by someone other than Coolidge himself; there are, for instance, photographs of his comrades standing around his grave. The collection could have been assembled by any number of people, including his mother, his good friend Douglas Campbell, or one of his brother or sisters.


No further accruals are expected.

Existence and Location of Copies

Materials from this collection have been digitized and are available at The Museum of Flight Digital Collections.

Related Archival Materials at The Museum of Flight

Nancy Harkness Collection of World War I Photograph Albums. Three albums of World War I photographs depicting various U.S. Air Service squadrons stationed along the French-German border during and after the war, including Coolidge's squadron, the 94th.
Related Archival and Museum Materials at Other Institutions The Coolidge Family was a wealthy and well connected family in the northeastern United States; as such, they have several archival collections and pieces of art in various cultural institutions. For more information about Hamilton Coolidge and his family, please see the following collections:

Roosevelt-Derby-Williams Papers, 1863-1977 (MS Am 2835). Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Harvard University. Several pieces of correspondence from Hamilton Coolidge are included in this collection, including letters to Edith Carow Roosevelt, Quentin Roosevelt, and to the Coolidge family.

Flora Whitney Miller papers relating to Quentin Roosevelt, 1891-1968 (MS Am 2925). Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University. There are several letters from Hamilton Coolidge in this collection. Flora Whitney was engaged to Quentin Roosevelt before his death in World War I.

There are also letters from Hamilton Coolidge and other members of his family at the Sagamore Hill National Historical Site in Oyster Bay, New York and at the Library of Congress. Many of these items have been digitized and are available online through the Theodore Roosevelt Center:

Portrait of his grandfather Joseph Randolph Coolidge, at the Harvard Art Museum:

Portrait of his mother Mary Hamilton Hill at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston:

Coolidge Family Collection (Mss 8993). Baker Library, Harvard Business School. This collection concerns the generations prior to Hamilton Coolidge's, and gives insight into how various members of the Coolidge family made their fortune.

Separated Materials

The following books have been separated from the archival component of this collection and are kept in the Library:

  • Letters of an American Airman: Being the War Records of Capt. Hamilton Coolidge, USA. 1917-1918. Boston: Privately Printed, 1919. Please contact the Librarian for more details.
  • Signal Book, 1914.United States Army

The following items have been separated from the archival component of this collection and are kept in Objects storage:

  • Army Officer pin

The objects listed below are currently on display in the World War I Gallery of the Personal Courage Wing:

  • American Expeditionary Force black wings patch

  • United States Air Service dog tag

  • World War I era bronze ring (German)

  • World War I era Iron Cross (German)

  • Piece of aircraft, with bullet holes

  • Distinguished Service Cross

  • Croix de Guerre with Palms

  • Section of fabric from Hamilton Coolidge's SPAD XIII (S.13)
Guide to the Hamilton Coolidge World War I Collection
Completed - Level 4
L. Zaborowski and A. Demeter
Description rules
Language of description
Processing, cataloging and digitization of this collection was made possible by a Council on Libraries and Information Resources (CLIR) "Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives" grant.
Edition statement
3rd Edition

Revision Statements

  • November 2018: Finding aid migrated to ArchivesSpace.
  • September 2020: Updated related agents.

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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