UFOs: Man-Made, Made Up, and Unknown

Today’s post comes from Joseph Gillette, an archivist on a cross-training assignment in the National Archives History Office. This is the last in a series concerning the Air Force’s Project Blue Book investigation. Part I addressed the challenges the National Archives faced in providing access to the records. Part II addressed general Air Force investigatory and analytical procedures, as well as sightings resolved as natural occurrences. This final part addresses sightings resulting from human causes . . . and a case still unidentified.

Swan Lake, NY, 1965

On September 27, 1965, a college student from New York City was in Swan Lake, NY, when he saw an unusual sight. Upon receiving the student’s report, Air Force investigators completed a standard survey form to collect basic information about the sighting and provide an initial possible explanation (to fulfill confidentiality agreements, personally identifiable information [PII] has been withheld):


Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

UFOs: Natural Explanations

Today’s post comes from Joseph Gillette, an archivist on a cross-training assignment in the National Archives History Office. This is the second in a series concerning the Air Force’s Project Blue Book investigation.


Close-up photo of UFO in Redlands, CA, 1958. (Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force, National Archives)

From 1947 to 1970, the United States Air Force conducted investigations into the increasing number of unidentified flying object (UFO) sightings throughout the United States. The purpose of the investigations was to assess the nature of these sightings and determine if they posed any potential threat to the U.S.

Three successive projects were created to carry out these investigations: Sign, Grudge, and Blue Book.

Blue Book was the longest and most comprehensive, lasting from 1952 to 1970. A 1966 Air Force publication gave insight into how the program was conducted:

The program is conducted in three phases. The first phase includes receipt of UFO reports and initial investigation of the reports. The Air Force base nearest the location of a reported sighting is charged with the responsibility of investigating the sighting and forwarding the information to the Project Blue Book Office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

If the initial investigation does not reveal a positive identification or explanation, a second phase of more intensive analysis is conducted by the Project Blue Book Office. Each case is objectively and scientifically analyzed, and, if necessary, all of the scientific facilities available to the Air Force can be used to assist in arriving at an identification or explanation. All personnel associated with the investigation, analysis, and evaluation efforts of the project view each report with a scientific approach and an open mind.

The third phase of the program is dissemination of information concerning UFO sightings, evaluations, and statistics. This is accomplished by the Secretary of the Air Force, Office of Information.

Project Blue Book, February 1, 1966, p. 1. (National Archives Identifier 595175)

After investigating a case, the Air Force placed it into one of three categories: Identified, Insufficient Data, or Unidentified.

blue book 2

Project Blue Book, February 1, 1966, p. 2. (Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force, National Archives)

Sightings resulting from identifiable causes fall into several broad categories:

  • human-created objects or phenomena including aircraft, balloons, satellites, searchlights, and flares;
  • astronomical phenomena, including meteors and meteorites, comets, and stars;
  • atmospheric effects, including clouds and assorted light phenomena; and
  • human psychology, including not only psychological frailty or illness but also fabrication (i.e., hoaxes).

The conclusions of Project Blue Book were:

(1) no unidentified flying object reported, investigated, and evaluated by the Air Force has ever given any indication of threat to our national security;

(2) there has been no evidence submitted to or discovered by the Air Force that sightings categorized as unidentified represent technological developments or principles beyond the range of present day scientific knowledge; and

(3) there has been no evidence indicating that sightings categorized as unidentified  are  extraterrestrial vehicles.

Project Blue Book, February 1, 1966, p. 4. (Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force, National Archives)

In 1967, the Air Force’s Foreign Technology Division (FTD), the organization overseeing Blue Book, briefed USAF Gen. William C. Garland on the project. The July 7 report stated that in the 20 years the FTD had reported and examined over 11,000 UFO sightings, they had no evidence that UFOs posed any threat to national security. Furthermore, their evidence “denies the existence of flying saucers from outer space, or any similar phenomenon popularly associated with UFOs.”

The FTD reiterated an expanded finding from Project Grudge: “Evaluations of reports of UFOs to date demonstrate that these flying objects constitute no threat to the security of the United States. They also concluded that reports of UFOs were the result of misinterpretations of conventional objects, a mild form of mass hysteria of war nerves and individuals who fabricate such reports to perpetrate a hoax or to seek publicity.”

An independent review requested by FTD came to the same conclusion:

blue book 6

Briefing by 1st Lt. William F. Marley, Jr. to General William C. Garland, July 7, 1967, p. 7 (Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force, National Archives)


Looking to specific investigation files, we can see what a typical investigation was like, the kinds of documentation and information collected, the investigatory process, and how the Air Force arrived at its conclusions.

Datil, NM, 1950

Cpl. Lertis E. Stanfield, 3024th Air Police Squadron at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, reported seeing a strange object in the sky on the night of February 24/25, 1950. He had a camera with him at the time and took several pictures, including the following:

 The details of the sighting were included in an investigation report:



This was not the first time an unusual sighting had occurred at Holloman. In fact, it was part of a recurring pattern (and one that explains Stansfield’s possession of a camera at the time of the sighting).


Report of Aerial Phenomena, Holloman Air Force Base, February 21, 1950, through April 31, 1951. (Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force, National Archives)

At the time, Project Grudge was unable to provide an explanation. However, a decade and a half later, a similar sighting over the Soviet Union provided Blue Book with an answer: a comet.


Project 10073 Form, ca. 1965 (Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force, National Archives)

Several sightings of this kind were reported in the desert Southwest around this time. Despite the delay in reaching a conclusion, the similarity of the photographic evidence to known comet sightings led the Air Force to conclude it was dealing with a comet here too.

Redlands, CA, 1958

On December 13, 1958, a man in Redlands, California, snapped a photograph of a strangely shaped object in the sky.


Photo of UFO sighting in Redlands, CA, 1958. (Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force, National Archives)

 The UFO worksheet described the sighting in detail:



However, inconsistencies in the reporting led the Air Force to initially determine that the case was impossible to analyze accurately.


Correspondence, February 5, 1959. (Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force, National Archives)

A final report dated January 1959 elaborated on these inconsistencies but reached a conclusion nonetheless. The observer had photographed a lenticular cloud.




All of these sighted were explained as initially misinterpreted natural occurrences. In the next post of the series, we’ll turn our attention to sightings ultimately identified as human-created objects and one sighting truly classified as a UFO.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 3 Comments

The Jefferson Memorial turns 75

On Friday, April 13, 2018, the memorial dedicated to Thomas Jefferson—our third President and principal author of the Declaration of Independence—turns 75.


The memorial’s architect, John Russell Pope (1874–1937), was also architect of the National Archives Building. While Pope lived long enough to see the opening of the Archives, he died before groundbreaking for the Jefferson Memorial had even commenced. His partners, Daniel P. Higgins and Otto R. Eggers, had to take over the memorial’s construction.

After Pope’s death, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Commission, which oversaw the project, made changes to Pope’s design to counter some criticism about the scale of the memorial and address an outcry over plans to remove numerous cherry trees around the Tidal Basin. Construction on the revised plans began on December 15, 1938. The following November, President Franklin D. Roosevelt attended the cornerstone-laying ceremony.


President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the Jefferson Memorial cornerstone laying, November 15, 1939. (National Archives Identifier 196630)

Earlier in 1938, the commission had held a competition to select sculptors for the memorial. From more than 100 entries, they chose Rudulph Evans as the main sculptor and Adolph A. Weinman to sculpt the pediment relief located above the entrance. Weinman also designed the pediment on the north side of the National Archives Building, facing Pennsylvania Avenue, titled Destiny.

President Roosevelt returned on April 13, 1943, to dedicate the memorial, which coincided with the 200th anniversary of Jefferson’s birth. Due to metal shortages during World War II, Evans had not yet been able to complete the 10,000-pound, 19-foot-tall bronze statue of Jefferson, and instead a plaster cast was painted to mimic bronze (the bronze statue was not installed until 1947).

During the dedication celebration, the original Declaration of Independence was on display in the new memorial. Guarded 24 hours a day by a Marine Honor Guard, the document had been brought out of its war hiding place, Fort Knox. At that time, the Library of Congress had custody over the Declaration and moved it out of the city as a war precaution.


A Marine Honor Guard stands watch over the original Declaration of Independence, which was displayed at the base of the statue to commemorate Jefferson’s bicentennial anniversary, April 13, 1943. (Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Seventy-five years later,  the Declaration is housed at the National Archives. And the Jefferson Memorial still stands over the Tidal Basin as a favorite designation for viewing the cherry blossoms each spring.

USEPA Photo by Eric Vance

Cherry blossom bloom at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC, 4/2/2010. (National Archives Identifier 5997934)

Happy 275th Birthday to Thomas Jefferson and 75th to the Jefferson Memorial!

See records related to the Jefferson Memorial in the National Archives Online Catalog.

Posted in - Declaration of Independence, National Archives History, News and Events, Presidents | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

11 Bookmobiles that Make Archivists Want to Hit the Road

Librarians have different jobs than archivists. And the National Archives is not the Library of Congress (hi, neighbors!). But, librarians and archivists have a lot in common, and the Archivist of the United States had a long career as a librarian before crossing over to the other side of the stacks.

Like librarians, archivists love books–and we’d love to have any of these bookmobiles pull up in front of the National Archives Building on Pennsylvania Avenue. So until hipsters bring back the bookmobile (and we hope they do), get your mobile book fix from these historic photos.

Are you ready to join us? There’s plenty of room in our new Wanderbibliothek!


Once you check out your book, the best place to be seen reading it is on the hood of the bookmobile, obviously.


It looks a little uncomfortable in this bookmobile but it also looks very organized, and this pleases us.


This bookmobile was living the #vanlife before Instagram even existed.


If we did run away in a bookmobile, we’d take Miss Edna Ritchie, traveling librarian, with us.

Edna 1.jpg

Miss Edna Ritchie and her old truck, converted into a traveling library, are a welcome sight to rural school children in Perry County, Kentucky, a remote, mountainous region of central United States. From the series Feature Packets with Recurring Subjects, 1953-1959, (NAID 1105040) in Record Group 306


She would be the perfect companion for an archivist on a bookmobile adventures–she loves books and preservation! So dreamy.

Edna 2

Edna Ritchie, traveling librarian in the U.S. mountains of Kentucky, finds plenty to do between her weekly trips to remote rural schools. Books do wear out despite the best treatment, so she is kept busy rebinding them. Here she hand-stitches a worn volume. Mending torn pages, filing new books, and reading releases and reviews to choose additional volumes for the ever-growing library are some of her regular duties. From the series Feature Packets with Recurring Subjects, 1953-1959, (NAID 1105040) in Record Group 306


We’d also be happy to ride along with Miss Yulerette Smith (seen here in the middle), Bookmobile Librarian, of Jamaica!

Jamaican bookmobile.jpg

“Looking on in the picture, above, Mrs. Cumming presents the check to Miss Norma Segre (acting for the Director of the Jamaica Library Service) are school children, Bookmobile Librarian Yulerette Smith, Dr. Powell, Mrs. Hill, and Mrs. Rosalind McLaughlin, Acting Head of the Schools Departmant of the Jamaica Library Service.” From The Shield, April 1962


But whether we’re driving in a Kentucky holler or on a Jamaican hill, we’ll have to pack some clothes along with our books. These crowds at the bookmobiles always look sharp!


Really, looking dapper at the bookmobile is important.


We’d travel all over the country, bringing a trusted hankie with us to dab at our eyes when we saw kids lining up to check out books. (Because allergies. Allergies!)


 Taos County, New Mexico. Children line up for books when Taos County project bookmobile visits school at Prado.


We’d talk to all kinds of people and find out what they like to read! Maybe we’d even recommend some books about archives.


Bookmobile librarian! It sounds like the best job in the world (next to archivist, of course).


Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

INVASION! (of privacy)

Today’s post comes from Joseph Gillette, an archivist on a cross-training assignment with the National Archives History Office. It is part of a series concerning the Air Force’s Project Blue Book investigation.

Pages from RG341 NN-375-209

Offer of transfer of Air Force documentation related to Project Blue Book, March 31, 1975. (Records of Headquarters United States Air Force, National Archives)

In the mid-1970s, the National Archives prepared to absorb the records of the Air Force’s Project Blue Book, as well as its precursors, Project Sign and Project Grudge.

The purpose of these projects was to investigate the increasing number of unidentified flying object (UFO) sightings throughout America and determine their nature and any potential threat.

While Sign and Grudge were short-lived (1947–51), Blue Book lasted from 1952 to 1970. Meant to replace the previous projects, whose mandates and conclusions were considered tainted by predetermined bias, Blue Book was to investigate the UFO phenomenon with something approaching scientific rigor.

By the time Blue Book ended, America had gone through the tumult of the civil rights era and protests against the Vietnam War. Americans were increasingly skeptical of their government and, in particular, the military. Sensing the public’s mood, the Air Force was eager to release as much as possible from Blue Book.

Pages from RG341 NN-375-209-2

“Appraisal Report on Transfer Offer,” June 19, 1975. (Records of Headquarters United States Air Force, National Archives)

For the National Archives, ingesting and making publicly available such a collection of records created unique challenges. In particular, privacy agreements were typically included as part of the process of interviewing witnesses. The Air Force raised this issue in the initial offer of records.

Continue reading

Posted in National Archives History | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Betty Ford, Dancer

April 8, 2018, marks the 100th anniversary of Betty Ford’s birth. Today’s post comes from Nikita Buley, a former intern at the National Archives. 

Betty Ford was known as a vivacious activist for women’s rights. What many don’t know is that she was also a talented modern dancer.

Betty Bloomer Warren dances in “Fantasy,” 1945. At this point in her life, she was married to her first husband, businessman William Warren. (National Archives Identifier 187012)

Born Elizabeth Bloomer, the future First Lady always knew she wanted to be a dancer. At age 8, Betty started taking classical ballet classes in her home town of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Continue reading

Posted in - Women's Rights | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Betty Ford Danced To Her Own Beat

We’re wrapping up Women’s History Month. Today’s post comes from Anayeli Nunez at the National Archives History Office.

Photograph 2

Betty Bloomer (second from right), likely at Bennington College Summer School of Dance, 1938. (National Archives Identifier 187011)

In 1987, Congress declared March National Women’s History MonthToday we use this month to honor women, from the suffragists of the 19th Amendment to today’s proud supporters of the #MeToo movement. 

It’s also a fitting time to look at the life of First Lady Betty Ford, a strong advocate for women’s rights whose 100-year birthday anniversary is April 8, 2018.

Before becoming the First Lady, Betty Ford was Elizabeth Anne Bloomer, a young woman from Chicago with a passion for dancing. Her love for the performing arts took her all the way to Carnegie Hall in New York City. Continue reading

Posted in - Women's Rights, Women's History Month | Tagged | 1 Comment

Play Ball!


President Theodore Roosevelt dodges “amendments” to the proposed Hepburn Rate Act, by Clifford Berryman, 5/12/1906. (National Archives Identifier 306091)

Opening day of baseball is upon us, and believe it or not, the National Archives is full of records related to America’s favorite pastime.

For instance, within the Records of the United States Senate at the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC, there is a large collection of original Clifford K. Berryman cartoons, including cartoons related to baseball.

Berryman, a political cartoonist for the Washington Post (1891–1907), then the Washington Evening Star (1907–1949), lived his entire adult live in Washington, DC.

He was an avid sports fan and loved to draw baseball—especially his hometown baseball team, the Washington Senators (or Nationals depending on the year). Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Change at their fingertips: Women’s petitions to Congress

March is Women’s History Month. Today’s post comes from Melanie M. Griffin from the National Archives Education and Public Programs Office.

Rediscovery #: 04172Job A1 09-137 First Americans

Petition to Congress from Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joselyn Gage, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton of the National Woman Suffrage Association enclosing a copy of their constitution, 1873. (National Archives Identifier 306687)

Often when one thinks of the freedoms embedded in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, one doesn’t immediately think of the right to petition.

A petition is a plea from an individual or a group asking their government to do something. Today it can be an email or signed via the internet, but before the age of electronics, petitions were addressed with pen and paper.

Women in particular have helped shaped the history of the United States by their petitioning efforts. From the anti-slavery movement to woman suffrage, women have actively called for a change through petitioning.

The woman suffrage movement was the most significant achievement for American women during the Progressive Era. Since the formation of the union, women’s rights were neglected and dismissed.

Throughout the 19th century, not only did we see a fight for civil rights for blacks, but there was a relentless fight for equality for women.

Continue reading

Posted in - Women's Rights, petitions, Women's History Month | 1 Comment

Eugenie Anderson’s Historic Firsts

Today’s post comes from John P. Blair with the National Archives History Office.


A portrait of Eugenie Anderson, ca. 1956. (Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, National Archives)

The observance of Women’s History Month prompts us to explore the lives and experiences of some of the many female trailblazers in our nation’s history.

One such woman, Helen Eugenie Moore Anderson, known as Eugenie, accomplished not only one, but several “historic firsts” for women within the field of U.S. international affairs.

Eugenie Anderson officially became the first female U.S. ambassador upon her appointment by President Harry S. Truman to lead the embassy at Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1949. Her success led to a second appointment in 1962, when President John F. Kennedy appointed her as the Minister to Bulgaria, thus becoming the first woman to serve behind the “Iron Curtain.”

Her contributions to the American political scene before her appointment strongly illustrate her commitment to liberal democracy and her advocacy of America’s leadership role in the world.

Continue reading

Posted in Women's History Month | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments