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The “Splendid Purchase” of the Tissandier Collection of Aeronautics

Today’s post is guest authored by Michelle Cadoree Bradley, a science reference specialist in the Library’s Science, Technology, and Business Division.  She is also the author of the blog posts Marie Curie: A Gift of RadiumGeorge Washington Carver and Nature Study and Stumbled Upon in the Stacks, or the Chimp in my Office.  

It was a splendid purchase.

Those are the words of Dr. Albert F. Zahm, chief of the Division of Aeronautics of the Library of Congress, published in the  1930 Annual Report of the Librarian of Congress.  In this report, Dr. Zahm describes the inception of the aeronautical collection at the Library of Congress.  At first a random collection of materials, the Library strove to make its aeronautical collections the best in the world.  They achieved this through exchange and gifts with other libraries and in 1930 the purchases of complete aeronautical library collections.  Arriving on the S.S. Aquitania on January 15, 1930 were four collections:  the Tissandier Collection, the Hoernes Collection, the Silberer Collection, and the Maggs Collection. These collections were purchased through Maggs Bros ., booksellers in London, and encompassed “33 cases, weighing, gross, 3 tons 3 hundredweight.”  For a complete listing of items from these collections see the Maggs Collection of Aeronautics bibliography.

Balloons, airships, and other flying machines designed with some form of propulsion. Engraving by E. Morieu. From the Tissandier Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Balloons, airships, and other flying machines designed with some form of propulsion. Engraving by E. Morieu. From the Tissandier Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The Library has digitized selections from its early aeronautical collections and you can find over 400 digital items from the Tissandier Collection free online.

The Tissandier Collection contains approximately 975 items documenting the early history of aeronautics with an emphasis on balloon flight in France and other European countries. Subjects include general and technical images of balloons, airships, and flying machines; portraits of famous balloonists; views of numerous ascensions, accidents, and world’s fairs; cartoons featuring balloon themes; pictorial and textual broadsides; and colorful ephemera and poster advertisements. There are also several hundred illustrations clipped from books and newspapers. The pictures, created by many different artists, span the years 1773 to 1910, with the bulk dating 1780-1890.

Figures about aeronautical mechanics designed by Ferdinand Tollin ( 1852). From the Tissandier Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Figures about aeronautical mechanics designed by Ferdinand Tollin ( 1852). From the Tissandier Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The Tissandier Collection and other early aeronautical collections (see below) are perfect for use in the classroom. For ideas on incorporating primary sources in technology teaching see the excellent “Multi-disciplinary uses of primary sources in the technology engineering classroom“, by Perry Louden, Rockvale Middle School, Rutherford Country Schools in the newsletter Tennessee Teaching with Primary Sources Newsletter, v. 4, no. 2, October 2012.

Also of interest to educators is the Primary Source Set The Inventive Wright Brothers,” from the Library of Congress Teacher Resources website and the blog post Science and Imagination: Full Steampunk Ahead with Primary Sources by Library of Congress Educational Resource Specialist Ann Savage.

You can find more digitized early aeronautical items on the Library’s website from the following:

You can also search the Library’s pictorial collections using keywords such as ” balloons,”  “aircraft,”  ”airships,” and “flying machines.”

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