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Stratosphere Collection

Cultural Note

The Society's archival materials constitute a historical record and may contain unsettling images, language, or other objectionable content that does not reflect contemporary social and/or cultural views or the Society's current values. Staff are implementing practices to address troubling or even potentially harmful content while retaining authenticity of the original record.
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Introduction

In early 1933, Captain Albert W. Stevens of the U.S. Army Air Corps proposed to his superiors that the Army undertake an ambitious stratosphere balloon flight. Stevens, trained as a mining engineer, had become an expert on aerial photography while serving in WWI and later became Chief of the Army Air Corps photography lab. Since the mid-1920s he promoted stratosphere balloon flights as the most promising way to gather data on cosmic rays and similar celestial phenomena. The National Geographic Society (NGS) funded a project based on Stevens’ belief that data could be obtained by using a massive balloon that would remain aloft long enough to gather the needed data.

The first launch took place on July 28, 1934 when Major William Kepner, Captain Albert W. Stevens, and Captain Orvil A. Anderson took off in the Explorer I. Hoping to rise 15 miles into the stratosphere, they ascended to 60,613 feet (11 miles) before a rip in the balloon forced them to bail out of the gondola. As they neared the ground at the rate of a mile a minute, the balloon exploded and the crew parachuted to safety before the gondola slammed into a cornfield near Loomis, Nebraska. Many of the instruments were smashed, but some valuable data was recovered including the highest altitude photographs of Earth yet made.

On November 11, 1935 before a crowd of soldiers, scientists, engineers, and members of the Sioux Nation, Explorer II launched and climbed to 72,395 feet (nearly 14 miles). Captain Albert W. Stevens and Captain Orvil A. Anderson monitored the performance of scientific instruments while maintaining perfect radio contact with the ground. Explorer II drifted approximately 225 miles to the east before landing intact. Stevens and Anderson were awarded the NGS’ highest honor, the Hubbard Medal, for their feat.

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Albums

Stratosphere Expedition 1934: Photos by R. H. Stewart - Box 1

In this album sub-series there are 67 B&W photographs documenting various aspects of the Stratosphere Explorer 1 Expedition. Photos capture figures such as Captain Albert W. Stevens and others in conversation or posing for photos; soldiers and technicians transporting, setting up, and testing equipment at the Stratobowl camp; overhead views of the Stratobowl. See individual photos in this album for further description.

Stratosphere Expedition 1934: Photos by R. H. Stewart - Box 2

In this album sub-series there are 66 B&W photographs documenting various aspects of the Stratosphere Explorer I Expedition. Photos capture figures such as Governor Thomas M. Berry and Captain Orvil A. Anderson along with others posing for photos or in conversation; scientists, technicians, and camp personnel setting up and testing equipment; the Governor's Cowboy band; National Broadcasting Company (NBC) radio broadcasting; and spectators gathered including members of the Sioux...

Stratosphere Expedition 1934: Photos by R. H. Stewart - Box 3

In this album sub-series there are 53 B&W photographs documenting various aspects of the Stratosphere Explorer I Expedition. Photos capture visiting figures such as Amelia Earhart and Captain Orvil A. Anderson and others posing for photos or in conversation; work on and around the Explorer I Gondola; views inside the Gondola; and crowds gathered around the Explorer I wreckage and the Stratobowl headquarters. See individual photos in this album for further description.

Stratosphere Expedition 1934: Photos by R. H. Stewart - Box 4

In this album sub-series there 41 B&W photographs documenting various aspects of the Stratosphere Explorer 1 Expedition. Photos capture figures posing for pictures, working with and testing equipment in and around the Explorer I Gondola; National Broadcasting Company (NBC) broadcasting; views of equipment inside the Explorer I Gondola; and spectators gathered. See individual photos in this album for further description.

Stratosphere Expedition #63 1934: Explorer 1 - Album 1

In this album sub-series there are 115 B&W photographs documenting various aspects of the Stratosphere Explorer I Expedition. Photos capture figures such as Captain Albert W. Stevens, technicians, soldiers and others posing for photographs, in conversation, and/or working with and testing equipment; Dow, Goodyear, and Zeppelin workers building the Explorer I Gondola; National Geographic Society and Rapid City, South Dakota's Chamber of Commerce; and aerial views of the Stratobowl. See...

Stratosphere Expedition #63 1934: Explorer 1 - Album 2

In this album sub-series there are 115 B&W photographs documenting various aspects of the Stratosphere Explorer I Expedition. Photos capture figures such as Captain Albert W. Stevens and Amelia Earhart in conversation, posing for photos or reviewing equipment; technicians and camp personnel working with equipment; the Governor's Cowboy Band, members of the Sioux Nation and other spectators; radio broadcasts at the Stratobowl headquarters; and a camp baseball game. See individual photos...

Stratosphere Expedition #63 1934: Explorer 1 - Album 3

In this album sub-series there are 112 B&W photographs documenting various aspects of the Stratosphere Explorer I Expedition. Photos document figures such as Major William E. Kepner and others in conversation, testing and/or working with equipment; soldiers and tehnicians rigging equipment; spectators and officers exploring the Stratobowl headquarters; and views of a trial balloon leaving the launch pad. See individual photos in this album for further description.

Stratosphere Expedition #63 1934: Explorer 1 - Album 4

In this album sub-series there are 96 B&W photos documenting various aspects of the Stratosphere Explorer I Expedition including the launch and crash. Photos capture figures such as Captain Albert W. Stevens and others posing for photos or testing equipment; the inflation of the Explorer I balloon and the launch of the expedition on July 28, 1934; workers and technicians installing equipment; spectators and scientists gathered around the Explorer I crash. See individual photos in this album...

Stratosphere Expedition #63 & 70 1934-1935: Book 1

In this album sub-series there are 102 B&W photos of in-flight aerial shots of the ground from the Stratosphere Explorer I gondola taken with an automatic camera. See individual photos in this album for further description.

Stratosphere Expedition #63 & 70 1934-1935: Book 2

In this album sub-series there are 88 B&W photos of in-flight aerial shots of the ground from the Stratosphere Explorer I gondola taken with an automatic camera. See individual photos in this album for further description.

Stratosphere Expedition: Spring 1935 Expedition #70 - Book 3

In this album sub-series there are 132 B&W photos documenting various aspects of the Stratosphere Explorer II Expedition. Photos capture figures such as Captain Albert W. Stevens and others posing for photos and/or working on or inspecting equipment; nighttime photos of the Explorer II balloon inflation; soldiers and technicians working on equipment; and the Governor's Cowboy Band, visitors, and members of the Sioux Nation exploring the Stratobowl headquarters. See individual photos in...

Stratosphere Expedition: Fall 1935 Expedition #70 - Book 3

In this album sub-series there are 88 B&W photos documenting the Explorer II Expedition in launch at the Stratobowl headquarters and in flight across the South Dakota Badlands. See individual photos in this album for further description.

Stratosphere Expedition #63 & 70 1934-1935: Book 3

In this album sub-series there are 82 B&W photos of in-flight aerial shots from the Stratosphere Explorer II Gondola. See individual photos in this album for further description.

Stratosphere Expedition #63 & 70 1934-1935: Book 4

In this album sub-series there are 29 B&W photos of in-flight aerial shots of the ground from the Stratosphere Explorer II Gondola. See individual photos in this album for further description.

Stratosphere Expedition: Spring 1935 Expedition #70 - Book 4

In this album sub-series there are 170 B&W photos documenting various aspects of the Stratosphere Explorer II Expedition. Photos capture figures such as Captain Orvil A. Anderson and technicians working on the Explorer II equipment; and nighttime views of the Explorer II balloon inflation. See individual photos in this album for further description.

Stratosphere Expedition: Spring 1935 Expedition #70 - Book 5

In this album sub-series there are 49 B&W photos documenting various aspects of the Stratosphere Explorer II Expedition. Photos capture various figures such Captain Albert W. Stevens and others posing for photographs, testing equipment, and/or in conversation; technicians, scientists and soldiers testing and working with equipment; and views of the Stratobowl. See individual photos in this album for further description.

Stratosphere Expedition: Spring 1935 Expedition #70 - Book 1

In this album sub-series there are 140 B&W photos documenting various aspects of the Stratosphere Explorer II Expedition. Photos capture various figures such Captain Albert W. Stevens and technicians installing equipment in the Explorer II gondola; Goodyear-Zeppelin workers assembling Explorer II equipment; visitors such as Gilbert H. Grosvenor and other spectators; army personnel setting up the Stratocamp tent city; and views of the Stratobowl. See individual photos in this album for...

Stratosphere Expedition: Fall 1935 Expedition #70 - Book 1

In this album sub-series there are 74 B&W photos documenting various aspects of the Stratosphere Explorer II Expedition. Photos capture various figures such as Captain Albert W. Stevens posing for photographs; aerial photographs of the Explorer II Expedition in flight; and close-up photos of the instruments used on the expedition. See individual photos in this album for further description.

Stratosphere Expedition: High Altitude Photos #70 - Book 2

In this album sub-series there are 75 B&W photos of in-flight aerial shots of the ground from the Stratosphere Explorer II Gondola taken by an automatic camera. See individual photos in this album for further description.

Stratosphere Expedition: High Altitude Photos #70 - Book 1

In this album sub-series there are 88 B&W photos of in-flight aerial shots of the ground from the Stratosphere Explorer II Gondola taken by an automatic camera. See individual photos in this album for further description.

Stratosphere Expedition: Fall 1935 Expedition #70 - Book 2

In this album sub-series there are 78 B&W in-flight aerial shots from the Stratosphere Explorer II Gondola of South Dakota and the horizon; and aerial views of the Stratobowl. See individual photos in this album for further description.

Stratosphere Expedition: Spring 1935 Expedition #70 - Book 2

In this album sub-series there are 142 B&W photos documenting various aspects of the Stratosphere Explorer II Expedition. Photos capture various figures such Captain Albert W. Stevens and Gilbert H. Grosvenor in conversation, posing for photographs, or examining equipment; up close photos of instruments for the expedition; and technicians working with gear and equipment. See individual photos in this album for further description.

Stratosphere Expedition: Fall 1935 Expedition #70 - Album 1

In this album sub-series there are 67 B&W photos documenting various aspects of the Stratosphere Explorer II Expedition. Photos capture various figures such Captain Albert W. Stevens and technicians posing for photos or working on equipment; nighttime photos of the Explorer II balloon inflation; spectators at the Explorer II landing near White Lake, South Dakota; and the Explorer II Gondola at National Geographic Society. See individual photos in this album for further description.

Stratosphere Expedition: Fall 1935 Expedition #70 - Album 2

In this album sub-series there are 126 B&W photos capture various aspects of the Stratosphere Explorer II Expedition. Photos document various figures such as Goodyear technicians and workers constructing the Explorer II equipment; aerial photos of the Explorer II Expedition in flight; testings of parachutes; and workers transporting the gondola. See individual photos in this album for further description.

Stratosphere Expedition: Fall 1935 Expedition #70 - Album 3

In this album sub-series there are 144 B&W photos documenting various aspects of the Stratosphere Explorer II Expedition. Photos capture various figures such Captain Albert W. Stevens and technicians working on Explorer II equipment; inside views of equipment in the Explorer II Gondola; National Broadcasting Company (NBC) personnel; life at the Stratobowl headquarters; and views of the snow covered Stratobowl. See individual photos in this album for further description.

Stratosphere Expedition: Photos by Stewart & Haizlip - Fall 1935

In this album sub-series there are 333 B&W photos documenting various aspects of the Stratosphere Explorer Expeditions. Photos capture various figures such Gilbert H. Grosvenor and others visiting and posing for photographs; soldiers and technicians setting up the Stratocamp tent city and working with equipment; close up photos of instruments; technicians testing equipment; Members of the Sioux Nation and other spectators exploring the Stratocamp; and the National Broadcasting Company setting up and testing their equipment. See individual photos in this album for further description.

Stratosphere Expedition: Photos by Stewart & Haizlip - Miscellaneous

In this album sub-series there are 76 B&W photos documenting various of aspects of the Stratosphere Explorer Expeditions. Photos capture various figures such as Captain Albert W. Stevens and others posing for photos and/or working with equipment; the launch of the Stratosphere Explorer I and the wreckage; gondola wreckage on display at National Geographic Society; and views of the Stratobowl. See individual photos for further description.

Published Photos

President Roosevelt congratulates Captain Orvil A. Anderson, Captain Albert W. Stevens and others at the White House on November 14, 1935This Published photographs section for the Stratosphere Expeditions Collection contains 356 B&W images published in National Geographic Magazine and in the Technical Papers for the "The National Geographic Society - U.S. Army Air Corps Stratosphere Flight of 1935 in Balloon 'Explorer II'". Publication information is noted with each individual image in this subseries. 

Stratosphere Expeditions Collection: Published photos

Negatives

Not yet digitized. 

This Negatives section for the Stratosphere Expeditions Collection contains 1,783 B&W image. Many of these images have a duplicate photo that is found in one of the albums within the Album Subseries. Information of which album to find the duplicate photo is noted with each individual image in this subseries. 

Film and Media

The film and media assets for the Stratosphere Expeditions Collection consist of over 80 video and audio assets that document the launch, flight, and crash of Explorer I in 1934, as well as the successful launch and flight of Explorer II in 1935. 

Stratosphere Expeditions Collection: Film and Media

 

Related Information

Need help searching the collection? Contact us via email: specialcollections@ngs.org 

See more information about the Stratosphere Expeditions on Geopedia (NG staff only):

Special Thanks

Charlie Gannon

We are extremely grateful for the knowledge and expertise provided by Charlie Gannon in creating inventories and accompanying descriptions for all 27 photo albums in the Stratosphere Expeditions Collection. 

A retired project manager, Charlie Gannon worked 38 years in the heavy-civil construction field. For the past 40 years his avocation has been everything "National Geographic Society." As a dedicated collector, he became interested in the NGS-USAAC Stratosphere flights with special interest in Lt. Col. Albert W. Stevens (Ret.). He has spent over 20 years researching Stevens' life and exploits.