Sunday, April 13, 2008

Juan Trippe's Globe, In Person

As they say in the Army: Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF): The globe is just as large as I thought it was, which means that either the globe in the movie was not really the authentic globe, or Alec Baldwin is freakishly huge.

To back up a little: recently I visited the new "America by Air" exhibit at the Smithsonian. The new exhibit takes up one of the halls at the main National Air and Space Museum on the Mall.

The exhibit gets two out of a possible five "Pan Am Globes" overall, and one out of five Globes for Pan Am content. Ultimately I think the web site is better than the actual exhibition.

There are lots of stewardess uniforms, and a few cutaway engines, etc, but overall it is unimpressive, except for Juan Trippe's globe. More specifics on the globe later...

One of the things I really noticed was the strong racial content. There was a lot of space and effort devoted to the message that not many minorities flew on American air carriers prior to desegregation and the civil rights movement. I thought this was kind of a racist non-sequitur, because the airlines themselves did not discriminate against paying passengers. What discrimination that did exist was mainly the policies of the airports, not the airlines. And before Pan Am inaugurated air travel for the masses, which occurred around the same time as desegregation and the civil rights movement, only the wealthiest elites, regardless of ethnic origin, engaged in commercial air travel.

But the exhibit doesn't devote any space at all, other than the displays on discrimination, to the classic art-deco airports of the 30s and 40s. There's nothing on La Guardia, or Dinner Key, or Treasure Island. There is only one small illustration of experimental airport designs, hidden in the corner by the emergency exit.

There were a few small Pan Am items besides the globe, such as these 377 and Connie models:

The DC-7 fuselage, which I assume was sponsored by American Airlines, is pretty cool, and there is a huge front fuselage section of a 747, which I didn't bother with because I didn't want to stand in line, and it appeared it was only a tour of the cockpit. If it had included an upstairs lounge, I might have been willing to stand in line.

But back to our main subject:

The globe is displayed with a pretty good B-314 model, and a little bit of Pan Am history in the diorama.

Here's a close up of th 314 model:

The globe itself was made by the "Malby's Terrestrial Globe Company", AKA Thomas Malby & Sons of London. There is a date on the label, which appeared to be '18*4'. The third digit in the date was obscured by damage, which I thought was kind of strangely coincidental. I had heard the globe dated to 1844, but looking at it I suspect it was 1884 or 1894, not 1844. I plan to email the lady at the Smithsonian to see if she has a good idea. The "Malby's Terrestrial Globe" company made globes as early as 1848, as far as I can tell, and made a similar large globe like this one in the 1880s - I think.

I looked closely at Pan Am's pioneering routes for evidence of Juan Trippe's measurings. There was little evidence of wear or damage, other than normal aging, anywhere other than the Pacific. There were a number of worn spots, stains, etc, near Pan Am's Pacific routes, especially around Hawaii:

Note that Hawaii is labeled "The Sandwich Islands". This dates the globe to before 1900 or so, but we knew that already.

Here is a shot of the plaque that says "Presented to the Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences by J.T. Trippe":

There is no date on the plaque. The "Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences" is now the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). The name dates the donation to before 1958. Later AIAA gave their entire historical collection to the Smithsonian and the National Archives, which I would assume is how the Smithsonian got the globe. I'm planning to email Ms. Szczepanowska about that as well. The Smithsonian Magazine says the Pan Am Historical Foundation had the globe, but that seems to contradict the plaque.

For a little more fun reading on Juan Trippe, check out this excellent rebuttal from the Wall Street Journal to how Trippe was portrayed in "The Aviator", or this cool anecdote.

Overall impressions: The globe is large, as big as I had thought, and very well preserved. It is an amazing piece of history. I'm glad the Smithsonian has it on display, but I think the National Air and Space Museum really missed the flying boat, as it were, in their "America by Air" exhibition. Also - and I was very surprised by this - the main NASM facility is simply not well kept. It is dirty, dusty, and in almost shocking disrepair. I understand that there is an awful lot of tourist traffic at the main NASM building, but that doesn't explain why most of the exhibits look like they haven't been dusted in several years. A lot of the museum was simply filthy. There are a lot of "interactive exhibits", where visitors can observe how various principles of aeronautics work, and it seemed that at least 75% of those were broken. Also, many of the other sections of the museum are very dated, and are not in good condition. I understand it is a _museum_, full of old stuff, but many of the displays and descriptions of modern aerospace technology simply need to be updated or fixed.

Overall, the Udvar-Hazy Facility of the NASM has more and better history of commercial air travel than this exhibit at the main building on the mall, such as the marvellous Clipper Flying Cloud:

I guess that last Pan Am shot could be called gratuitous :). But if you're trying to decide what to do with your aerospace museum visiting time and effort, skip the main NASM building and go to Udvar Hazy, unless you especially just want to see Juan Trippe's Globe. If it were up to me, I would move the globe and all the rest of the Pan Am stuff out to Dulles and have a real Pan Am exhibit out there. They have plenty of room, and lots more good stuff.


Jeannie said...

Don't know when you were last at Hazy, there's a case about the Nisei stewardesses on Pan Am, back by the tail of the 307.

Beth182 said...

Might I suggest you join Hanna Szczepanowska on April 30 at noon for her Ask an Expert talk? She'll be addressing her work on Juan Trippe's globe at the Naitonal Air and Space Museum on the Mall.

CW said...

Yup - saw the display on Nisei Pan Am stewardesses. Some good stuff there.

I wish I could make Ms. Szczepanowska's talk on 30 April. I had made some effort to be there for that presentation on its original scheduled date of 9 April (which is how this whole discussion started), but when it was changed to 30 April, I was hosed - just couldn't stay in DC for the rest of the month.