Purdue University Libraries Purdue Logo Purdue Libraries
 Hours  |   My Account  |   Ask a Librarian Get Help Give to the Libraries

In the history of flight and space, there are two monumental events that stand out: one was the Wright Brothers’ achievement of the first power-controlled flight, and the other was when Neil Armstrong became the first human to step foot on the moon.

Located in the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections (ASC), the Barron Hilton Flight and Space Exploration Archives collection was created to document and preserve Purdue University’s relationship to flight and space exploration. Recently, Neil Armstrong’s widow, Carol Armstrong, donated two pieces of fabric from the wings of the original Wright Brothers flyer, built in 1903 and flown at Kitty Hawk. This donation, to the Barron Hilton Flight and Space Exploration Archives at Purdue, bridges these two pivotal flight and space events, connecting the Purdue family all the way back to the birth of aviation by powered flight.

The Wright Flyer fabric is available for viewing in the free, public exhibition, “Apollo in the Archives: Selections from the Neil A. Armstrong Papers,” which runs through Aug. 16 in the Purdue Archives and Special Collections. The Purdue ASC is open from 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and is located in Stewart Center inside the Humanities, Social Sciences and Education (HSSE) Library, fourth floor.

Archivists in the Purdue ASC, a division of Purdue University Libraries and School of Information Studies, announced the gift of the fabric pieces, each measuring approximately 25 in. x 24 in., at a private reception last month. The pieces are particularly important because they were given to Neil Armstrong to take with him on the Apollo 11 mission aboard his historic landing of the Eagle lunar module on the moon. Along with the fabric, Carol Armstrong donated related correspondence from 1969 between the Air Force Museum and Neil Armstrong regarding the Wright Flyer fabric.

Barron Hilton Archivist for Flight and Space Exploration and Associate Head of Archives and Special Collections Tracy Grimm noted this gift bridges the history of flight and space and cements the Barron Hilton Flight and Space Exploration Archives as a resource that documents powered flight back to its very beginnings.

Visitors view some of the items and papers from the Neil A. Armstrong Papers collection, which are part of the "Apollo in the Archives: Selections from the Neil Armstrong Papers" exhibit. The Wright Flyer fabric will be on display in the exhibit through August 16.

Visitors view some of the items and papers from the Neil A. Armstrong Papers collection, which are part of the “Apollo in the Archives: Selections from the Neil Armstrong Papers” exhibit. The Wright Flyer fabric will be on display in the exhibit through August 16.

“To know that this one piece of fabric connects the first lunar landing with the first airplane flight is astonishing,” Grimm said. “To think that Orville and Wilbur Wright and Neil Armstrong all touched and held this fabric is incredible. It shows that Neil honored the pioneers who came before him, just as we honor his accomplishments. Objects like this fabric bring the past into the present and help us understand history in a tangible way. We know that people from history who do courageous things and realize near-impossible dreams are people who inspire future brave leaders and bold thinkers. Seeing the physical artifacts, documents, and photos that tell their stories makes history real to us in a way that is far more meaningful and vivid than a story in a textbook,” she added.

Purdue’s ownership of the Armstrong Papers—all 450+ boxes of his manuscripts, personal papers, and working files, alongside this recent addition of the Wright Brothers flyer fabric—are all due to the generosity of Neil and Carol Armstrong. Armstrong began giving his papers to Purdue, his alma mater, during his lifetime and his wife, Carol, continued to honor their wishes over time. This latest donation is one such example of how the collection has grown rapidly due to the Armstrong’s generosity.

Head of Archives and Special Collections, Professor Sammie L. Morris noted the special private unveiling ceremony held recently at Purdue as an exciting moment.

“With these exemplary collections of flight and space history, and as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission this year, we show how Purdue has helped the world advance in transportation and exploration,” Morris said. “It is so fitting that the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 coincides with Purdue’s 150th birthday this year, cementing forever the close relationship Purdue has had to flight and space history from its beginnings.”