Sunday, August 9, 2009

Automobile History at the National Archives, College Park, MD

Hi Folks -- I spent much of last week working on research projects at the National Archives located in College Park, MD. The fruit of this work will appear on this blog from time to time, as I review the materials I have acquired and begin to interpret it.

First, I looked at and scanned numerous photographs that are in Record Group 306, Records of the U.S. Information Agency. Many of these photographs were New York Times Paris or Berlin Offices -photos taken during the 1930 and 1940s. What I discovered were hundreds of photos on Grand Prix Racing during the golden age of the 1930s and the post-WWII 1940s. Great material if you are interested in that topic. I also used a number of textual sources while visiting the archives.

A major Collection on autos (38 big boxes!) is related to Federal Trade Commission Investigations from the early days of the automobile industry in America to about WWII. These documents include lots of material that one might use in writing business history. There are many, many financial statements, audit reports, tax statements, etc. I wasn't really interested in those documents, but every once and while I could find a gem related to car culture stuck in those boxes. It is Record Group 122, and certainly worth a good review if you are working on the History of General Motors or Chrysler.

I also looked at another collection in RG 151.3 of real value. Namely, there was an office in the Department of Commerce (Automotive Trade Commissioner) between 1929 and 1933 that was involved in matters related to exporting automobiles to Europe. Consequently, it sent agents to Europe to gather as much information as possible about the American industry there, and perhaps just as important, the automobile industries in England, France (very strong material here) and Germany. If you are interested in the European industry before WWII, you must look at these reports, which are numerous and fill four boxes. Everything is there that you might want to know about French marques and the attitude of the Europeans towards American manufacturers and their cars during this time.

More on the archives in the future, especially related to my work on the history of automobile theft during the 1920s and 1930s.


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