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Harold R. Harris Papers

Identifier: MS-214

Scope and Contents

The material in the collection is divided into eight series. Three of these series contain items that span Harris’ entire life, the rest relate to specific periods of his career.

Series I, Correspondence, is divided into two parts: business correspondence and private correspondence. The business correspondence consists of letters concerning Pan American Airlines, of which Harris was a vice-president and chief operating officer. These letters are correspondence to and from Harris and another Pan American vice-president John D. MacGregor. The business correspondence also consists of letters from Harris to the Pan American board of directors, and correspondence Harris wrote while on business trips for Pan American Airlines. The correspondence covers such topics as flight schedules, business trips, pilot personnel, Pan American’s competition, airplanes, and various other topics. This correspondence is arranged chronologically and spans the years 1929-1939.

The second part of this series is Harris’ private correspondence. This correspondence is mainly letters to and from his old colleagues and friends. Much of this private correspondence deals with the early years of Pan American-Grace Airlines (PANAGRA), in Harris’ attempt to gather information and documents for his book on PANAGRA. This section is arranged in alphabetical order and each correspondent is given its own file folder. Span dates for this entire series are 1917-1988.

Series II, Pan American Airlines, contains Harris’ travel diaries, report, correspondence, newsletters, newspaper clippings, articles, a pre-trial brief, and statement of evidence (concerning anti-trust laws), and Harris’ unpublished book about PANAGRA. Some of the more interesting materials are the Pan American Clipper newsletters, PANAGRA history, and the unpublished book about PANAGRA. Span dates for this series are 1926-1988.

Series III, American Overseas Airlines, contains articles, correspondence, and reports. One of the most interesting parts of this series is the correspondence concerning the last days of American Overseas Airlines. This series spans the years 1945-1950.

Series IV, North West Airlines, contains Presidential Reports, Supplementary Reports, Operating Statement and Financial Reports, Board of Directors minutes, correspondence, and miscellaneous papers and reports. Some of the more interesting materials in this series are the letters and papers concerning Harris’ resignation from North West Airlines, and a letter Harris received from President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and a letter to the President of Korea, Dr. Rhee, from Harris. Span dates for this series are 1952-1955, plus one report dated 1984.

Series V, Personal Logs, contains Harris’ personal logs from 1931-1937 (odd years only) and from 1948-1954 (even years only). These logs tell where Harris went, who he met, how he traveled, and what he did. This series also contains a diary for the year 1979.

Series VI, Speeches, contains miscellaneous speeches given by Harris. They deal mainly with aviation and Harris’ own personal experiences. This series also contains “Tail Daggers and Props,” which is recollections from Harris’ log books from 1917-1925. “Tail Daggers and Props” highlight old records and plans, flight test personnel, and the rebuttal of false claims. Span dates for this series are 1922-1987.

Series VII, Photographs and Awards, contains photographs that are arranged into several categories, including portraits, World War I, World War II, Huff Daland Dusters, Airplanes, and award ceremonies. There are three photo albums in this series. The first contains pictures from Harris’ trip to South America in the 1920’s, the second pictures are from World War II, and the third pictures are from Pan American Airlines. Two of the more interesting items in this series are a film of the Barling Bomber and of PANAGRA in Argentina and a Citation from King George VI of England to Harris. There is also a file in the oversized drawers that has World War II photographs along with various other photographs. The contents of boxes 14 and 15 include awards and medals that Harris received during his lifetime. Also of interest in this series is a scrapbook (box 20 and 21) that contains the earliest material in the collection, dating from Harris’s school days in California in 1915, up to about 1930, with focus on Harris’s aviation career, including service in Italy in World War I and time at McCook Field. The span dates for this series are 1915 to 1992.

Series VIII, Memorabilia, contains various files concerning aviation records and meets, Harris’ emergency parachute jump, Huff Daland Dusters, World War II material, various newspaper clippings, articles, and miscellaneous aviation material. There is also the U.S. Air Force Museum Friends Bulletin in which Harris has a continuing article. However, the file is missing the third installment of the Bulletin. This series also contains Harris’ Passport from the 1920s and a map of Europe that is marked with an unknown route. Several “Grace Logs” and a “Peruvian Times” are located in this series. The span dates for this series are 1886, 1908 to 1990.


  • Creation: 1886, 1908-1990


Language of Materials

The records are in English and Spanish

Restrictions on Access

There are no restrictions on accessing materials 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.

History of Harold R. Harris

Brigadier General Harold R. Harris was born in 1895 in Chicago, Illinois. He moved to Los Angeles, California, early in his life, and in an early example of his love of aviation, he played hooky from school at age 14 to attend the first national aviation meeting at Dominquez Field, Los Angeles, during its run from January 10-20, 1910. He graduated from Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles and the Throop Polytechnic Institute (later known as the California Institute of Technology), where he played three years of varsity football.

In 1916, Harris became Engineering Officer of an Army unit called the "First Provisional Aero Squadron." When the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, he enlisted in the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps. Shipped out to Foggia, Italy, where he was given three hours of flight training, Harris quickly graduated to flying instructor and then to test pilot of some Caproni bombers being constructed at Milan for the U.S. Navy. He and his co-pilot George Lewis were the first to fly a heavy bomber on reconnaissance missions over the Alps.

After World War I, from 1918 to 1925 Harris served as Test Pilot Chief of Flight Test Research for the Army Air Corps at McCook Field. He played an active role in setting up and operating the first lighted airway, an 80-mile stretch of land between Columbus and Dayton, Ohio. On October 20, 1922, as the first pilot to test a pressurized cabin at McCook Field, Harris, then a Lieutenant became the first pilot in this country to resort to a parachute in an emergency when he bailed out of his disintegrating experimental pursuit plane near Dayton. He thus became a charter member of the Caterpillar Club (so named because the parachute canopy was made of silk). Also during this time, Harris competed in many Aviation meets, and in 1926 held thirteen world flying records.

In the early 1920s, Thomas Huff and Elliott Daland formed a company to manufacture airplanes. In an attempt to sell planes to the U.S. Army Air Services, Huff traveled to Dayton and met Harris. George Post, a World War I naval aviator who had aided the two men in securing contracts, met Dr. Bert Coad of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Louisiana, who had developed a method to control the boll weevil by spreading calcium arsenate powder from an airplane hopper rather than spreading it on the ground. In 1924, Huff persuaded wealthy friends to finance an Airplane Cotton Dusting company and to give the factory an order for the design and construction of twelve dusting airplanes. He then spoke to General Mason Patrick, the head of the Army Air Service, who agreed to give Harris, by that time a Captain, a year's leave to help organize a company to dust cotton. Harris left the Army Air Corps permanently in February 1925, and immediately began recruiting pilots for the dusting company, soon known as Huff-Daland Dusters. C.E. Woolman, (later founder of Delta Airlines of which Harris became at least on paper a vice president) a U.S. Department of Agriculture entomologist, soon also joined the company.

In 1926, the dusting company was hired to eliminate the Peruvian army worms that were destroying the cotton crop. Flying along the western coast of South America to locate other areas that needed dusting, Harris began to sketch out the route of a possible airline from the United States to the Panama Canal down the west coast and over the Andes to Buenos Aires. Negotiating with Richard Hoyt, whose company had taken over Huff-Daland, Harris met with Juan Trippe who was planning an airline from Havana to Key West. In 1928, Peruvian Airlines was established with Trippe as president and Harris the vice president. Between 1929 and 1942, when Peruvian Airlines became Pan American-Grace Airlines (PANAGRA), Harris held the positions of Vice-President and Chief Operations Officer. Through careful negotiation with warring governments, the recruitment of skilled air crews, and help from both Pan American and the Grace lines in the acquisition of aircraft and landing sites, Harris was able to oversee the rapid development of the young airline.

In 1942, Harris accepted a commission as Colonel in the Army Air Transport Command, resigning his position with Pan American-Grace Airlines to do so. During World War II, Harris served as Assistant Chief of Staff, Plans; Assistant Chief of Staff, Operations; Commanding Officer of Domestic Transportation Division; and was Chief of Staff if the Air Transport Command, with the rank of Brigadier General when he left the service in 1945 to join American Overseas Airlines.

Harris was Vice President and General Manager for American Overseas Airlines until 1950 when the airline was incorporated into Pan American Airways. Working for Pan American Airways, Harris became Vice President in charge of the Atlantic Division. He remained with Pan American Airlines until 1954 when he resigned his position to become President of Northwest Airlines. Harris was President of Northwest Airlines until he resigned in 1955 due to a combination of ill health and irreconcilable differences between himself and the Northwest Airlines Board of Directors.

For the next decade, Harris was President of Aviation Financial Services, Inc., a company dedicated to helping infant airlines acquire adequate capitalization. He retired in 1965 at the age of 70. After retiring Harris began work on a book of the early days of PANAGRA (Pan American-Grace Airways), however it was never finished and remains unpublished. Harris passed away in Falmouth, Massachusetts, in 1989 at the age of 92, leaving two children and five grandchildren.

Decorations which Harris has received are the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, and the Air Medal (U.S.); Commander of the British Empire (Great Britain); Corona di Italia, Fatiche de Guerra (Italy); Abdon Calderon (Ecuador); and Orden del Sol (Peru).


8.75 linear feet


Harris was a World War I flyer and test pilot at McCook Field in Dayton during the early 1920s. He later became an executive with Pan American Airlines, American Overseas Airlines, and Northwest Airlines, as well as holding the rank of Colonel in the Army Air Transport Command during World War II. His papers consist of extensive correspondence, both personal and business, travel diaries, reports, newspaper clippings, personal logs detailing his activities and movements, speeches, photographs, and the manuscript of an unpublished book he authored about Pan American Airlines.

Statement of Arrangement

The Harold R. Harris Papers are arranged into eight series:

  1. Series I: Correspondence, 1917-1988
  2. Series II: Pan American Airlines, 1926-1988
  3. Series III: American Overseas Airlines, 1945-1950
  4. Series IV: North West Airlines, 1952-1955, 1984
  5. Series V: Logbooks, 1931-1979
  6. Series VI: Speeches, 1922-1987
  7. Series VII: Photographs and Awards, 1915-1992
  8. Series VIII: Memorabilia, 1886, 1908-1990

Other Finding Aid

A complete box and folder inventory for this collection is available on the Special Collections and Archives website at

Acquisition Information

The collection was donated to Special Collections and Archives by the National Museum of the United States Air Force in April 1990.

Related Material

MS-310, Dave Gold Parachute Collection; SC-314: Leach “Heritage of the Air” Aviation Prints and Harold R. Harris Photograph

Processing Information

Carol Galbraith, May 1991. Finding aid written according to DACS standards by Karis Raeburn, April 2014; revised by Lisa Rickey, August 2017.

Guide to the Harold R. Harris Papers (MS-214)
Finding aid prepared by Carol Galbraith, 1991; Karis Raeburn, 2014; and Lisa Rickey, 2017.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Wright State University Libraries, Special Collections and Archives Repository

Special Collections and Archives
3640 Colonel Glenn Hwy
Dayton OH 45435-0001 USA