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Ralph O. Brown papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSP 180

Scope and Contents

The Ralph O. Brown papers (1940-1976; 4.75 cubic feet) document his 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, 2 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. “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. The papers are organized into 5 series:


  • 1940-1976
  • Other: Date acquired: 05/11/2013


Conditions Governing Access

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

Conditions Governing Use

Purdue University per deed of gift

Biographical / Historical

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.


4.75 Cubic Feet

2 mss._boxes

2 shoe_boxes

1 flat_box

2 items


Flight logs, aerial photographs and negatives of Northern Indiana farms, churches, schools and businesses, clippings, business records, homemade aerial photography equipment and miscellaneous items used in Indiana pilot Ralph Brown’s aerial photography and survey business. Also includes Brown’s personal journal, which contains stories, including, “My First Solo Flight, and “Flying Dangerous or Not?”

Source of Acquisition

Donated by Toni Mayo, November 5, 2013.

Accruals and Additions

Addition,  20131127

Existence and Location of Originals

multi-part note content

Related Materials

Toni Mayo papers:

Processing Information

The original order of the negatives has been retained, but the other series have been placed in chronological order.  All materials have been housed in polyester sleeves, acid-free folders, and acid-free boxes.  The clippings have been copied onto archival paper for researcher use, but the originals have been sleeved and retained. Oversized photographs and artifacts have been separated and grouped into individual series for preservation purposes.
Ralph O. Brown papers
Mary A. Sego
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections Repository

504 W. State Street
West Lafayette Indiana 47907 United States