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Archives at The Museum of Flight

Ralph A. Newcomb Early California Aviation Photograph Collection

Identifier: 2023-08-30
The Ralph A. Newcomb Early California Aviation Photograph Collection is comprised of materials collected by Newcomb during his time in the early days of aviation while living in California. The collection dates from 1910 to 2006 and consists of photographic materials, as well as a small number of textual documents.

Most notable in the collection are the 206 black-and-white photographs, 96 negatives, and numerous postcards that relate to Newcomb’s personal and professional relationships with aviators dating from 1910 to 1919. There are pictures of the aviation pioneer Robert G. Fowler, whom Newcomb worked closely with as Fowler’s personal mechanic on his 1911 North America transcontinental flight. There are also pictures of other aviators, such as Ruth Wightman, Walter Brookins, Lawrence W. Brown, and Florence Seidell. Many of the images depict Newcomb with these associates.

Ruth Wightman is heavily represented throughout the collection. The images illustrate Wightman’s interests in autocar racing, aviation, and bullfighting. Newcomb and Wightman were close friends and are pictured together in social settings, along with him near her while she is seated at the controls of a hydroplane. There is a booklet from Tahiti that Newcomb acquired on a visit to Wightman at her home in Papeete, Tahiti. Included are images of Wightman with her mother, Lulu Wightman, and other companions. There are pictures of her in automobiles and aircraft. The collection contains a group of negatives featuring a series of bull fights, Wightman with a close female companion, along with Wightman’s husband Gouverneur Morris IV. The images were taken during their travels to Spain in 1925, where Wightman was trained in the practice of bull fighting.

In addition to the images related to Wightman, other aviators and aviation scenes are also depcited such as the airfield in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, California where Newcomb and Brookins ran an aviation business. There are images of aircraft taking off and landing in the airfield, as well as aerial views Griffith Park. In addition, there are aerial photographs that Newcomb captured of Los Angeles, Glendale, San Fransico, and Balboa, California taken in the early 1900s.

Lastly, there are images of airplane crashes, assorted aircraft, (like the Wright Co. Model B plane), and a selection of automobiles and motorcycles. There are also numerous photographs of Newcomb and others posing with dogs. Most of the photographs in the collection are vintage prints, though there are 17 8x10” black-and-white modern contact prints created from some of the negatives. The prints range in size and the negatives are all medium format.

Another aspect of the visual materials series are postcards dating from 1911 to 1915, which feature Fowler’s flights and other aviators working in the United States, such as Silas Christofferson. Also, there is a grouping of postcards depicting French aviators and their aircraft.

The small number of textual documents in the collection range from 1911 to 2006. The bulk of the documents provide insight on Newcomb’s relationship with Fowler through correspondence, flight plans, and clippings. There is also a draft of a scenario for a film coauthored by Newcomb titled, “The Conquest of a Dirigible in Modern Warfare.” In addition, there is a copy of the Annual Report of the Isthmian Canal Commission, 1910, which is possibly related to Fowler’s flight over the Isthmus of Panama in 1913.

Finally, the remainder of the collection consists of correspondence files of Del Meyers, an aviation historian. The files, which date from 2005-2006, document his interest in Newcomb, as well as the use of aviation images and Meyer’s membership with the publisher World War I Aeroplanes, Inc.


  • 1910-1919, 2005-2006
  • Majority of material found within 1911-1919


Language of Materials

Some postcards are in French. All other 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.


.8 Cubic Feet (1 letter size 5-inch document box, 1 letter size 2-inch document box, and 1 expandable file folder)


Ralph A. Newcomb worked as an aviator and mechanic in the early 1900s, during the pioneering days of aviation in California. The collection dates from 1910 to 2006 and is predominantly comprised of photographic materials and a small number of textual documents collected by Newcomb during his time in the field of aviation.

Biographical Note: Ralph A. Newcomb

Ralph A. Newcomb worked as an aviator in the early 1900s, during the pioneering days of aviation in California.

Ralph Andrew Newcomb was born on November 20, 1879, in Nebraska City, Nebraska to Andrew Rollin Newcomb and Mary Hester Boydston. In 1898, Newcomb volunteered to enlist in the Spanish American War. At this time, he moved to Los Angeles, California to serve in the United States Army as a private in the 7th California Infantry. Following the war he moved to San Fransisco, California where he worked as a machinist. Then around 1911, Newcomb moved back to Los Angeles where he became part of the early aviation scene in California. He was good friends with Robert G. Fowler, whom Newcomb worked for as a mechanic and assisted on Fowler’s 1911 transcontinental flight. In addition, he received his first flying lessons from Walter Brookins, later partnered with for a movie contract in Venice, California, and ran an aviation business out of the airfield in Griffith Park, Los Angeles. He was close to Ruth Wightman Morris, whom he visited at her home in Papeete, Tahiti, in 1928. In 1930, he moved to Pacific Grove, Monterey, California.

Newcomb spent most of his life in California with his wife Dorthy W. Newcomb. They shared no children. He passed away on September 1, 1963, in Los Angeles.

Biographical note derived from donor information, records on, and the Harold E. Morehouse Flying Pioneers Biographies Collection, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

Separated Materials

The following books have been separated from the archival component of this collection and are kept in the Library:
  • Burden, Maria Schell. Life and Times of Robert G. Fowler. Los Angeles: Privately Borden Publishing Company, 1999.
  • Souvenir of the Panama Canal. Panama: I.L. Maduro’s Souvenir Store.
  • WWI Aero: The Journal of Early Aeroplane, no. 192 (May 2006).
  • Skyways: The Journal of the Airplane 1920-1940, no. 60 (October 2001).
Please contact us for more details.

The following item has been separated from the archival component of this collection and is kept in Objects storage:

  • piece of pontoon signed by Robert G. Fowler

Processing Information

This collection has been fully processed.
Guide to the Ralph A. Newcomb Early California Aviation Photograph Collection
Completed - Level 3
Charise Dinges
December 2023
Description rules
Language of description
Edition statement
1st edition

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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