Aeronautical History Collection of Col. Richard Gimbel, 2700 B.C.E.-1999

Gimbel, Richard, 1898-1970


approximately 20,000 items.
A very diverse collection of 20,000 items that trace the story of flight from Babylonian cuneiforms to the Wright Brothers. Included are five thousand year-old seals carved from semiprecious stones and used to inscribe clay tablets that record the earliest conception of flight. Rare coins and medals commemorate great aviators and their achievements. Among the collection's thousands of books are volumes printed before 1501 and items which discuss all aspects of aviation, including experiments with wings, balloon ascents, first parachutes, rocketry, and accounts of historic flights. More than 2,000 prints, portraits, engravings, etchings, woodcuts, and lithographs create a unique pictorial history of aeronautics. Important letters written by pioneers of flight are also to be found in the collection's manuscript holdings. Additionally, there are also rare commemorative medallions, sheet music, posters, dime novels, postcards and postage stamps, early flight manuals, catalogues of aircraft equipment, match boxes, and children's games and toys.
Richard Gimbel was born in 1898 the son of one of the founders of the Gimbel's department store chain. He studied in Europe and received a bachelor's degree at Yale in 1920. He joined the family business, but in 1935, he left the Gimbel Brothers and started his own chain of department stores called "Richard's." He also turned his attention to flying, became a pilot, bought an airplane, and started collecting. Initially, he satisfied his literary tastes, amassing large collections of the works of Thomas Paine, Charles Dickens, and Edgar Allen Poe. However, while serving with the 8th U.S. Army Air Force in England during World War II, Gimbel began to collect aeronautical books, manuscripts, prints, and memorabilia. So as not to be overwhelmed by materials, Gimbel then concentrated on lighter-than-air flight and aeronautics up to 1914. Although he had intended the first flight of the Wright brothers to be the terminal point of his aeronautical collection, he later expanded the holdings to include the post-1903 period. He remained in the Air Force after World War II and in 1951 was appointed Professor of Air Science and Tactics at Yale. He retired from the Air Force in 1953 and remained at Yale University as the Curator of Aeronautical Literature. Col. Gimbel died in 1970 at the age of 71 from a heart attack. The Aeronautical History Collection of Richard Gimbel was donated to the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado, upon his death. Gimbel's Dickens collection remains at Yale University, his Poe collection is in the Poe Museum in Philadelphia, and the Thomas Paine Collection was given to the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia. For an overview of the Aeronautical History Collection of Col. Richard Gimbel, see the book entitled "The Genesis of Flight" which highlights 300 items from the collection. The catalog was produced by The Friends of the United States Air Force Academy Library in association with University of Washington Press in 2000.

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