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Levitt Luzern Custer Papers

Identifier: MS-302

Scope and Content

Levitt Luzern Custer was an early aviator and this collection shows his accomplishments. There are early patents from his inventions, log books from when he timed for air races and photographs of his activities and the other famous aviators he worked with. Some records are missing that were probably destroyed in the 1965 fire that consumed his company.

Series I, Biographical, contains biographies written by and about Levitt Luzern Custer. Correspondences are also included within this series, and include letters from R.W. Schroeder, Walter R. Brookins, and J.H. Doolittle, all early aviators. Of particular interest are the files of his inventions.

Series II, Patents, includes original patents, most of which belong to Custer. Some other patents belong to his father, Levitt Elsworth Custer and another inventor John H. Hammond. Of major importance is the invention of the statoscope, a devise used to measure the change in altitude for a balloon, dirigible and other aircrafts.

Series III, Aviation Materials, contains materials related to aviation, excluding documents relating to the Wright Brothers, which are found in Series VI. Included in Series III are log books and information on the Early Birds, as well as some newspaper clippings.

Series IV, Publications, contains magazine and news publications. Of major interest is a souvenier copy of The Dayton Journal printed in the air from the balloon “Hoosier” on June 29, 1909. The original of this is found in the scrapbook found in Box 9, Series VII. Aviation journals such as the Aero Club of America’s journal are also within this series.

Series V, Photographs, includes photographs of ballooning, aviation, famous early aviators, and inventors such as Henry Ford. The photos encompass the years 1910-1960.

Series VI, Wright Brothers Material, holds some very extraordinary materials. A photograph of the first flight with a signature by Orville Wright is preserved here along with other photos. Dedication documents, booklets, and other memorabilia are also found in this series.

Series VII, Scrapbooks, is two scrapbooks belonging to the Custer family. In these, are clippings, documents, and photographs of major events, such as clipping of the work of the Wright Brothers, photographs of the 1913 Dayton flood, and certificates awarded to Custer.

Series VIII, Films, contains brief 16-mm reels of aviation races, C.F. Kettering’s 75th birthday party, and Dayton sporting events. In the final box are S-VHS copies of the 16mm original film. The S-VHS tapes are digitized for reference only and available in the E-Archives.

Series IX, Digitized Aviation Autograph Album dated 1945-1962, includes 258 digital scans and prints made from an album of aviation autographs collected by Custer. The original album spans 1945-1962, and was loaned to Special Collections and Archives in 2001 to digitize and then returned to the family. Each page was digitized and the file name corresponds to the page number. A few pages are blank. Custer collected the autographs at special events and club meetings, such as Early Bird Day at Governor’s Island in 1954. Entries by notable aviation figures often include the date signed, a personal note to Luzern Custer, and accomplishments in the field of aviation. It is truly a Who’s Who of aviation history.


  • Creation: 1886-2001
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1908-1950


Restrictions on Access

Original film is in frozen storage for preservation. To view content of film for reference, patrons should use the digitized files of the VHS tapes made from the original film (E-archives ms302_e0004). For higher quality reproductions, patrons may request digitization of the original film for the associated costs. Use of digitized content is subject to conditions governing use. There are no other restrictions on accessing material in this collection.

Restrictions on Use

Copyright restrictions may apply. Unpublished manuscripts are protected by copyright. Permission to publish, quote or reproduce must be secured from the repository and the copyright holder.

Biography of Levitt Luzern Custer

Levitt Luzern Custer was born on July 27, 1888 in Dayton, Ohio. As a young boy, he frequented the Wright Brothers' Bicycle Shop, where he met the acquaintance of Wilbur and Orville Wright. Katherine Wright was his Latin teacher at Steele High School. This began a long friendship with the Wrights, particularly Orville.

Custer attended Central District School and Steele High School, both in Dayton. He then attended Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, and the Massachusetts Institute of technology in Cambridge, Mass.

After briefly working for the National cash register Company, he founded the Custer Specialty Company in 1916. There he developed mechanical devises such as the statoscope, cars, motorized invalid chairs, power scooters, and various amusement park rides.

Custer was also a figure in aviation. He was a pioneer in flying and racing hot air balloons. His father Levitt Elsworth Custer had done the same. Custer also became an official timer for the national Aeronautic Association and the Federation Aeronautique Internationale. Custer officiated with Orville Wright at world record flight trials at McCook Field and Patterson Field, both near Dayton.

Custer was a member of the Dayton Engineers' Club; Early Birds; National Association of Amusement Parks, Pools, and Beaches; Kiwanis; and Free Masons. Custer was also a member of the Westminster Presbyterian Church.

Custer had three sons, James, Randall, and Donald from his first marriage. In his second marriage to Gladys Mills he had one son, Don.


9.25 linear feet

8.08 Gigabytes

Language of Materials



Levitt Luzern Custer was a Dayton-area aviator and inventor, and an associate of Orville Wright. During his lifetime he engaged in pioneering balloon experiments, served as an official timer for flight trials, collaborated with Orville Wright on various projects, and invented a wide range of mechanical machines from the statoscope to amusement park rides. The collection documents many of Custer's achievements as well as those of other early aviators, such as the Wright Brothers. Information on early aviators such as the Early Birds who flew before 1916 are also preserved. Patents, blueprints, photographs, and correspondence are also a rich source of research.

Statement of Arrangement

The collection is arranged into 9 series:

Series I:
Biographical, 1910-1968
Series II:
Patents, 1909-1936, 1942
Series III:
Aviation Materials, 1915-1962
Series IV:
Publications, 1908-1958
Series V:
Photographs, 1910-1960
Series VI:
Wright Brothers Materials, 1903-1953, undated
Series VII:
Scrapbooks, 1886-1956
Series VIII:
Films, 1948-1951, 1954
Series IX:
Digitized Aviation Autograph Album dated 1945-1962, 2001

Acquisition Information

This collection was donated to the Wright State Special Collections and Archives by Levitt Luzern Custer's son, James Custer, in August of 2000.

Existence and Location of Originals

The original Autograph Album in Series IX, is owned and located with the family. TIF files and reference prints of the autograph album were created for the collection in 2001.

Existence and Location of Copies

Films in the collection were transferred to S-VHS tape by Special Collection and Archives circa 2000. The VHS tapes were digitized for reference only in a compressed file format (mp4) in 2019. For higher quality reproductions, patrons may request digitization of the original film for the associated costs.

Related Material

MS-1, Wright Brother's Collection

Guide to the Levitt Luzern Custer Papers (MS-302)
Finding aid prepared by Jeffrey A. Landis, 2001
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2005: Updated by Sherri Derringer
  • 2008: Updated by Lynda Kachureck
  • 2013: Finding aid reformatted by Victoria Penno
  • 2017-07-03: Access note updated.
  • 2019 March: Finding aid revised by Allie Edmonds to reflect digitization of VHS tapes for reference, and film placed in frozen storage for preservation.

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

Wright State University Libraries
Special Collections and Archives
3640 Colonel Glenn Hwy
Dayton OH 45435-0001 USA