Skip to main content

Ralph O. Brown papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSP 180

Scope and Contents

The Ralph O. Brown papers document Brown's businesses, Southside Studio, Huntington, Indiana and the Northern Indiana Aerial Photographic and Survey Service. The papers are comprised of Ralph O. Brown's pilot flight records and log books, which include his remarks and notations and Brown's journal which contains stories, including, "My First Solo Flight," and "Flying Dangerous or Not?" Also included are business receipts (1950s), business related correspondence, two clippings about Brown and other miscellaneous business related items.

Some of the unique features of the papers are the extensive collection of aerial negatives and photographs taken by Brown of Northern Indiana farms, churches, schools and businesses, including airports. Some of the original envelopes which held the negatives have notations about the farms and their occupants. Also included in the papers are Brown's Department of Commerce, Civil Aeronautics Administration airman, certification/identification card, 1945 mileage ration stamps and his homemade aerial photography equipment.

Per Tony Mayo's biography, "Prior to each flight, he cut 50 pieces of 5"x7" undeveloped film and slipped each one into a wooden film holder. Flying 30-40 miles with Huntington as the hub, and just 200-300 feet above the ground, his photos were crystal clear. Just seconds before he snapped the pictures, he let go of the plane's joy stick to focus on the image below. The plane was unmanned for several seconds."

"Today the photographs are significant as they depict exactly what the family farm looked like 50 to 70 years ago. From huge groomed gardens, to freshly painted out buildings and out houses, to piles of derelict machinery, to clean clothes waving on a wire, from shocks of corn and wheat in perfect symmetry, to animals grazing in fields, the diverse family farm was captured from above. After looking at the first 100 photographs, it becomes apparent just how unique the family farm was, with no two alike. Brown captured an era that will never again be experienced or seen."

Types of materials include: aerial photographs, aerial photography equipment, artifacts, clippings (information artifacts), correspondence, business records, flight logs, a journal, negatives and papers.


  • 1940 - 1976


Access Information

The collection is open for research. Stored off-site, 24 hour notice recommended.

Copyright and Use Information

Portions of material in this collection are in the public domain. Other material copyrights held by Purdue University or original creator. Consult with Purdue University Archives and Special Collections prior to reproduction of materials.

Biographical Information

Ralph O. Brown was born on Feb. 1, 1911, in Rock Creek Township in Indiana, to William C.C. and Flora Ethel Day Brown. He was a 1930 graduate of Rock Creek Township High School. Mr. Brown was a farmer and a lifelong resident of Rock Creek Township.

Per a biography written by Toni Mayo, "Photographer pilot, Ralph O. Brown operated Northern Indiana Aerial Photographic and Survey Service, from 1940-1970, in Huntington, Indiana. He flew the plane, photographed the image, developed the film, printed the photograph and sold each print door-to-door. He took more than 30,000 aerial photographs during his career."

Brown retired in 1968, returning to farming.

Sources: Indiana Obituary and Death Notice Archive. 2013. Web. 24 October 2014. />

Toni Mayo papers and research files for Defining Flight.


2.652 Cubic Feet (Two letter-size full-width manuscript boxes, two shoe boxes, one flat box, one flip top photo and print box, and one LP record box)

Language of Materials



The papers are organized into five series. The original order of the negatives has been retained, but the other series have been placed in chronological order. Oversized photographs and artifacts have been separated and grouped into individual series for preservation purposes.
  1. Flight Logs and Journal
  2. Business Records, Correspondence, Clippings and Miscellaneous Items
  3. Aerial Negatives
  4. Oversized Aerial Photographs
  5. Artifacts

Acquisition Information

Collection donated by Toni Mayo, November 5, 2013.

Processing Information

All materials have been housed in acid-free folders and acid-free boxes. Polyester sleeves were used where warranted. The clippings have been copied onto archival paper for researcher use, but the originals have been sleeved and retained.
Ralph O. Brown papers
Mary A. Sego
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Edition statement
Second edition. Collection description first completed 2014-07-11.

Repository Details

Part of the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections Repository

504 Mitch Daniels Boulevard
West Lafayette Indiana 47907 United States