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Milton Hersberger Collection - MS 550
The correspondence, printed material, and photographs in the Milton Hersberger Collection deal primarily with the history of Island Air Service, a passenger and freight airline operating between Port Clinton and the Erie Islands that Hersberger created, owned, and managed. Some material concerns Hersberger's work as a barnstormer before he founded the airline in 1930, and as a businessman, after he sold the airline in 1953. The collection includes letters, pilot's logs, ledgers, newspaper clippings, magazine articles and photographs spanning the years 1925-1986.
The collection was donated to the Center for Archival Collections in November 1988 by Hersberger's wife, Marguerite Hersberger of Port Clinton, Ohio. Literary and property rights have been dedicated to the public and duplication is permitted for the purpose of preservation and scholarly research. The collection was processed and the register prepared by James Kaser, a doctoral student in American Culture in April 1989.
Milton Hersberger (29 December 1901-1987) was an aviator who created an air transport service connecting the islands lying off the southwest shore of Lake Erie with the mainland. He operated the service, one of the first of its kind, from 1930-1953. An important figure in the history of the Erie Islands, the success he made of his air service received national attention during the years after World War II when passenger air service was beginning to develop on a large scale. The story of his airline played a small role in the effort to popularize air travel.
Born in Anderson, Indiana, Hersberger was taught to fly by Erret Williams, a barnstormer, in 1923 and soloed the summer of that year at Berry Field in Richmond, Indiana. Between 1924 and 1926, he barnstormed throughout Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. It was while he was airport manager at Sandusky, Ohio during 1927-1928 that he realized how useful air service would be to the Islanders, especially during the winter when they were sometimes cut off from the mainland for several weeks. In the winter of 1928 he made several tripis to Kelley's Island and Put-in-Bay using the frozen Lake as his runway. Father J. A. Maerder, who served the parishes on these islands flew with Hersberger and encouraged him in his dream of starting an air service for the Islands, though financial conditions did not make it an immediate possibility.
Between 1928 and 1930 Hersberger held a number of positions. He was manager and chief instructor at Landsdown Airport in Yougnstown from 1928-1929. In 1929, he began working as a pilot for Ohio Air Transportation which soon after went bankrupt. He then worked for the Argo Company in Alliance as a test pilot. After this, he was a mail carrier for the Cliff Ball Airlines which, after several mergers, became United Airlines. In 1930, Hersberger was working at Chicago's Stinson Airport as chief pilot for Art Killip's passenger service and had an opportunity to compete in the 1930 National Air Show. He won the dead stick landing competition three consecutive days. Late in 1930 he heard of the sinking of the lake Island ferry "Mascot." Learning that its passengers were stranded on the mainland, he flew back to Ohio to transport them to their homes.
When a fire at Chicago Municipal Airport destroyed a number of hangars and forced the sale of salvaged engines, Hersberger was able to replace the water-cooled engine in his Waco. Using this plane and a second plane he had borrowed, he started his air service to the Islands in November of 1930. His mainland air field was on a piece of land near Port Clinton leased from U.S. Gypsum. He also purchased land on Put-in-Bay, which became his base of operations, and leased small plots of land on Middle Bass, North Bass, and Kelley's Islands. With the support of Father Maerder, who flew with him to Washington, he was awarded the mail contract for the Islands (effective 1 July 1931).
Increasing cargo loads and passenger demand soon necessitated larger planes with enclosed cabins. Hersberger thought the Ford Tri Motor would be ideal for his purposes but their expense ($55,000) was prohibitive. He got his chance to buy his first one for $2,500 in 1934 when he heard that one had crashed after running out of fuel near Pittsburgh. Throughout his career he traveled widely to purchase used Tri-motors, making trips to such places as Fairbanks, Alaska, the Dominican Republic, and Havana, Cuba. It is the so-called "Tin Goose" with which his airlines came to be identified.
In addition to flying Islanders and summer residents back and forth to the mainland, Hersberger ferried many visitors, especially during the summer, the pheasant hunting season, and the ice-fishing season. His most frequent cargo, in addition to the mail, was wine from the Lonz Winery and other wineries on the islands. He also transported farm animals, appliances, groceries, and other necessities for the Islanders. His plane was also used as an ambulance by the Islanders and occasionally as a means of transporting the deceased.
Hersberger and his airlines received widespread media attention in the 1940s. Feature articles were written for such publications as Air Transport, Business Week, and Collier's. It was during this period that Hersberger was nominated by then-Governor Frank Lausche, as one of the first members of the Ohio Aviation Board. He served in this position from 1945-1947.
In 1953, Hersberger sold his airline to Travelair Taxi, Inc., a subsidiary of Sandusky Airport, Inc., headed by Ralph Dietrick, for $95,000. The sale followed a period of conflict between Hersberger, who wished to keep Port Clinton airport closed to other pilots, and Port Clinton officials, who wanted to open it to other pilots.
Hersberger had purchased Urb's Cafe, located in Port Clinton, in 1951. After the sale, he and his wife devoted their energies to operating it and, in 1965, he opened a professional building at 105-109 Madison Street in Port Clinton.
The bulk of the material in the collection deals with Hersberger's airline. The most useful records for understanding its daily operation are the pilot logs and airline ledgers. The pilot logs, available for the entire period Hersberger was involved with the airlines, 1930-1953, provide a record of the number of hours Hersberger was flying on any given day as well as cumulative hour totals. They also indicate the nature of the trips being made and the planes being used. Unfortunately, they do not provide information for the airline as a whole, because there were periods when Hersberger employed other pilots. The ledgers, unlike the pilot logs, provide financial information and a record of the employees of the airline through indications of withholding and social security taxes paid. There is no breakdown of the earnings of the company on a per pilot basis, however, so it is difficult to know how much other pilots were flying in comparison to Hersberger. Ledgers are available for the years 1939 through 1953.
The collection has little correspondence. The main series was created through Hersberger's involvement with the Port Clinton Airport and deals primarily with the attempt to establish it as a municipal airport so that it would be eligible for federal funds to provide for improvement and expansion of its facilities. Hersberger started the airport by leasing land from the U. S. Gypsum Company in 1930. More land was eventually needed and to establish it as a municipal airport all of the land had to be acquired by Port Clinton. The bulk of the Port Clinton Airport correspondence stemmed from Hersberger's membership on the Airport Committee which worked to raise funds to purchase the land and get landowners to sell. Business correspondence and personal correspondence is extremely limited.
The newspaper clippings, magazine articles, and book sections are useful sources for tracing the activities of Hersberger and the history of his airlines. The clippings provide contemporary accounts of major events starting with Hersberger's appearing after the sinking of the "Mascot" to transport its stranded passengers and including an article on the sale of the airline. They also indicate what Hersberger did after selling the airline. Later newspaper articles, treating the airlines as a subject of local history, and magazine articles and book sections often include memories of the residents that provide an understanding of how important the air service was to the Islanders. Articles written for national news magazines in the 1940s show the contemporary importance of the airlines as an example of a successful passenger service in an era when air travel was being popularized.
The richest part of the collection is the extensive photographic record. Even though not all of the photographs have been identified, they show the sorts of planes Hersberger flew from his barnstorming days up until the day he transferred ownership of the airlines, which was also the last day he ever flew a plane. One photograph shows the ice cutters used before plane service supplanted them as the only means of transportation for the Islanders during the winter months. The importance of Hersberger's airlines to the Islanders is demonstrated by the many photographs of the great variety of cargoes flown and the crowded passenger cabins. With very few exceptions the photographs are of extremely high quality; a number of them were taken by photojournalists and ended up serving as illustrations for articles on Hersberger.
A small amount of material deals with Hersberger's career after selling the airline. Three ledgers covering 1951 through 1956 are for Urb's Cafe, which Hersberger operated in Port Clinton. Several newsclippings refer to his operation of a professional building in Port Clinton.
GENERAL MEETING OF ALL ISLANDERS MINUTES
Minutes of a meeting held to discuss changes being proposed for the Port Clinton airport that, it was feared, would affect service to the Islands. Hersberger gives his opinions on the matter and provides a summary of the history and development of the airport and his role in it.
PORT CLINTON AIRPORT CORRESPONDENCE
Mainly incoming correspondence sent to Hersberger, first as operator of the airport, and later as a member of the Airport Committee. Correspondence from 1952-1943 deals primarily with moving the watchtower and improving runway conditions. Between 1944 and 1951 the correspondence concerns raising money to buy the land on which the airport is located so that it can be turned over to the city of Port Clinton and operated as a municipal airport, making it eligible for federal funding. Some correspondence deals with applying for federal aid.
Incoming and some copies of outgoing correspondence relating to Hersberger's airline and the professional building he owned after selling the airline. Included are letters dealing with parts orders, advertisements, mailing lists and bus connections for airline passengers. Several letters from Attorney Geraldine Larkin Recknagel concern legal services rendered for the airline, including its incorporation. A letter from Ralph Dietrick concerns Hersberger's sale of the airline to him. One letter is from a Cuban immigrant doctor to whom Hersberger wishes to rent space in his professional building.
Two letters of congratulation, one from State Representative Fred Deering, on Hersberger's receipt of an honorary membership bestowed by the Ottawa County Historical Society. Two letters are from women who had flown with Hersberger on occasions that were important in their lives; they recount the circumstances.
Includes a partial inventory of Air Tours, Inc., a balance sheet of assets as of 31 December 1952 and a profit and loss statement for the years 1950, 1951, and 1952.
WESTERN RESERVE HALL OF FAME NOMINATION.
This document presents a history of Hersberger's career as an aviator.
A memorandum brief prepared by Attorney G. Larkin Recknagel concerning issues related to the leasing of the Port Clinton Airport by the municipality and the establishment of franchises to airliens to operate out of the airport.
LICENSE AND CONTRACT.
A license and contract granted to Peninsular Airway Service to operate from Port Clinton Airport.
An annotate copy of a council motion bearing on the position of airport manager.
Portion of a land grant transfering land owned by U. S. Gypsum to Port Clinton. The rights retained by U. S. Gypsum are specified.
Log books contain date of flight, plane used, flight time and cumulative totals of flight time. Typically, they also list the destination, nature of the cargo and identity of the passengers.
Arranged chronologically and located with the oversize material at the end of the collection.
Include information about income and expenses as well as some indication of the nature of the cargo being flown and the identity of people having freight flown.
URB'S CAFE LEDGERS
Arranged chronologically and located with the oversize material at the end of the collection.
Ledgers for a cafe Hersberger operated in Port Clinton.
WACO AIRCRAFT RECEIPT
Receipt for purchase of a plane to be fitted with an engine provided by Hersberger; this was probably the plane he used in beginning his air service.
ISLAND AIR SERVICE BROCHURES.
1944, 1951, n.d.
Several versions of a brochure advertising the Island Air Service.
1947, 1948, n.d.
Describe the airline service and include a map of the flight path; some include a flight schedule and some describe specially created, high school graduating class tours.
Advertises Put-in-Bay Airlift and attractions on Put-in-Bay; includes a plane schedule.
List departure and arrival times for air service flights.
MEIER'S WINE CELLARS OFFPRINT.
Offprint of the Air Transport article about Hersberger and his airline used as an advertisement for Meier's Wine Cellars.
PRELIMINARY DRAFTS OF PENINSULAR AIRPORT BROCHURES.
Mock-ups of brochures describing Peninsular Airport.
LAKE ERIE VACATION BORCHURES.
Primarily promote Lake Erie attractions and mention the airline, sometimes including the flight schedule.
CLARK CARRUTHERS COMPANY CIRCULAR.
List of aviation parts and equipment for sale by the Clark Carruthers Company, 79 Wall Street, New York City.
SCRAPBOOK AND SCRAPBOOK MATERIAL
Includes photographs from Hersberger's days as a barnstormer, as well as handbills advertising his performance; some news clippings describe his activities.
Includes stories on all the major events in Hersberger's career as a pilot and that of his airline. The series begins with the sinking of the Erie Island ferry, "Mascot," an event which gave Hersberger an opportunity to demonstrate the usefulness of air travel to the Erie Islanders. One article discusses the sale of the airlines. There are also retrospective articles that recount Hersberger's story.
MAGAZINE ARTICLES AND BOOK SECTIONS.
Includes feature articles and book sections about Hersberger and the airlines, as well as book sections and articles about the airlines or Ford Tri-motors in which Hersberger is mentioned.
Lilsts of Chamber of Commerce members, newspaper travel editors, Erie Island residents, school districts, and summer cottagers that were used as mailing lists.
Includes airman identification card from the Civil Aeronautics Administration and Quiet Birdmen membership card.
MAGAZINE ARTICLES ABOUT THE TIN GOOSE.
1974, 1977, 1979.
Articles collected by Hersberger about the aircraft he used for his airlines that discuss the story of the aircraft and its long popularity.
Twenty-four photographs of Hersberger's biplanes and first Tri-motor. Some photographs are of Port Clinton airport and cargo being loaded; there are several photographs of Hersberger and his early supporter Father J. A. Maerder.
Forty photographs of Milton Hersberger, airline employees, cargo being loaded, airfields and plane interiors.
POSITIVE PRINTS--MILTON HERSBERGER.
Thirteen photographs of Milton Hersberger.
Twenty-four photographs that are mostly of Hersberger's airplanes parked, with a few taking off and landing.
Eleven photographs including Port Clinton, South Bass Island, Kelley's Island, North Bass Island and Pelee Island airfields.
POSITIVE PRINTS--PASSENGERS AND INDIVIDUALS.
Five photographs, with several interior shots of seated passengers, and one photograph of assistant pilot Dever Corder.
POSITIVE PRINTS--CLASS TRIPS.
Five photographs of class trips on which airline planes were used.
POSITIVE PRINTS--ICE FISHING.
Seven photographs showing ice shanties, fish being sorted, ice holes being made and minnows being caught for bait.
POSITIVE PRINTS--CARGO BEING LOADED.
Twenty-four photographs of groceries, furniture, cases of wine, and mail being loaded.
POSITIVE PRINTS--AERIAL AND LANDSCAPE.
Twelve photographs including Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial, Camp Perry, and the Lake Erie Islands.
POSITIVE PRINTS--GROUP PHOTOGRAPH.
Group Photograph of the Quiet Birdman of the Washington Hangar that includes Hersberger.
Mounted on wood for use in printing; several pieces.
- General Meeting of All Islanders Minutes, 1952
- Port Clinton Airport Correspondence, 1942-1943
- Port Clinton Airport Correspondence, 1944-1945
- Port Clinton Airport Correspondence, 1946-1951
- Business Correspondence, 1945-1965
- Personal Correspondence, 1981-1986
- Financial Report, 1952
- Western Reserve Aviation Hall of Fame Nomination, n.d.
- Legal Documents, 1946
- Pilot's Log, 1928-1930
- Pilot's Log, 1930
- Pilot's Log, 1930-1932
- Pilot's Log, 1933
- Pilot's Log, 1933-1934
- Pilot's Log, 1934-1935
- Pilot's Log, 1935-1936
- Pilot's Log, 1936-1937
- Pilot's Log, 1937-1938
- Pilot's Log, 1938-1939
- Pilot's Log, 1939
- Pilot's Log, 1939
- Pilot's Log, 1939-1940
- Pilot's Log, 1940
- Pilot's Log, 1940
- Pilot's Log, 1940-1941
- Pilot's Log, 1941
- Pilot's Log, 1941
- Pilot's Log, 1941-1942
- Pilot's Log, 1942-1943
- Pilot's Log, 1943-1944
- Pilot's Log, 1944
- Pilot's Log, 1944-1945
- Pilot's Log, 1945-1946
- Pilot's Log, 1946-1948
- Pilot's Log, 1948-1950
- Pilot's Log, 1950-1951
- Pilot's Log, 1951-1953
- Waco Aircraft Receipt, 1930
- Scrapbook, 1925-1926, n.d.
- Newsclippings, 1929-1953, n.d.
- Newsclippings, 1965-1985, n.d.
- Magazine articles and book sections, 1944-1987
- Mailing lists, 1946-1949, n.d.
- Island Air Service Brochures, 1944, 1951, n.d.
- Circulars, 1947, 1948, n.d.
- Flyer, 1951?
- Schedule Cards, 1951-1953
- Meier's Wine Cellars Offprint, 1944
- Peliminary Drafts of Peninsular Airline Brochures, n.d.
- Lake Erie Brochures, n.d.
- Clark Carruthers Company Circular, n.d.
- Magazine Articles--Tin Goose, 1974-1979
- Membership Cards, 1951, n.d.
- Photographs--1930s, 1931-1936
- Photographs--1940s, 1944-1950?
- Photographs--Milton Hersberger, n.d.
- Photographs--Airplanes, n.d.
- Photographs--Airfields, n.d.
- Photographs--Passengers and Individuals, n.d.
- Photographs--Class Trips, n.d.
- Photographs--Ice Fishing, n.d.
- Photographs--Cargo Being Loaded, n.d.
- Photographs--Aerial and Landscape, n.d.
- Oversize Encapsulated Group Photograph, n.d.
- Copperplate Negatives, n.d.
Shelved at the end of the collection
- Airline Ledger, 1939-1943
- Airline Ledger, 1944-1946
- Airline Ledger, 1947-1949
- Airline Ledger, 1949-1952
- Airline Ledger, 1953
- Urb's Cafe Ledger, 1951
- Urb's Cafe Ledger, 1953-1955
- Urb's Cafe Ledger, 1955-1956
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