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F. Trubee Davison papers

Call Number: MS 601

Scope and Contents

The papers of F. Trubee Davison document his life and career as a naval aviator, lawyer, politican, museum director, intelligence officer, and philanthropist. The Davison papers total 10.5 feet and are arranged in 21 boxes. This material is arranged in the following four series: I. GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE AND SPEECHES 1882-1978; II. FIRST YALE UNIT 1914-1979; III. PHOTOGRAPHS 1896-[ca. 1966]; and IV. SCRAPBOOKS 1921-1931.

SERIES I contains correspondence, speeches, and miscellaneous material from 1916-1974. Files which detail aspects of Davison's professional career as well as personal correspondence with friends and associates are arranged here.

Davison's service on the National Crime Commission, 1925-1927, is of particular interest (folders 104-107). Davison chaired this commission from 1925-1926. His correspondence, printed material, and scrapbooks (SERIES IV) illuminate the operations of the commission as the members, who included Franklin Delano Roosevelt, struggled with the growing problem of crime in America.

From 1951-1952 Davison served as assistant director of the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.). Befitting his position with the C.I.A., Davison's correspondence (folder 27) focuses on personnel matter within the agency, primarily in the area of recruitment.

Prior to Davison's appointment to the C.I.A. he served as president of the American Museum of Natural History from 1933-1951. Davison is credited with placing the museum on sound financial footing and permitting several advances in building construction and museum exhibits to develop. Both Mr. and Mrs. Davison travelled on expeditions for the museum, and they participated in the Martin Johnson African Expedition in 1933. This project culminated with a film record of its activities and the addition of several elephants and other species to the museum's holdings.

Daniel Pomeroy, a member of the Davison family, also participated in the expedition and travelled extensively throughout Africa. Correspondence files for the museum (folders 4-5), Martin Johnson (folders 72-74), and Daniel Pomeroy (folder 135) all reflect aspects of the planning, problems, and progress which marked the African expedition.

The popularity and success of Davison at the museum can be measured to a limited degree by the many letters he received upon his resignation (folder 38).

The career of Davison as an elected public official, which includes his work as a New York state assemblyman, 1922-1926, and as the republican party's gubernatorial candidate in 1932, is poorly documented. Files on 1932 election statistics (folder 54), a Nassau County School bill (folder 102), the Nassau County Republican Committee (folder 103), the 1924 Republican state convention (folder 144), and various speeches (folders 160-161) provide a rather limited view of Davison's political life. Related material on this subject is arranged in SERIES III (campaign photographs, folder 287) and SERIES IV (scrapbooks).

Even less documentation is available for Davison's service as Assistant Secretary of War (for Air) from 1926-1933. Personnel files from his military career (folders 97-98) and letters of congratulations from associates upon military promotions (folders 36-37) provide only rudimentary background information. Scrapbooks in SERIES IV, which contain clippings from several newspapers, include numerous accounts of Davison's inspection tours and examinations of U.S. aviation facilities and equipment.

Davison corresponded with many notable figures in his military and political careers, although much of this material is quite routine in nature. Among the individuals in this series are: Robert E. Byrd, Calvin Coolidge, Charles G. Dawes, Thomas Dewey, Dwight Eisenhower, Herbert Hoover, Charles A. Lindbergh, Douglas MacArthur, Robert Moses, Ernest "Ernie" Pyle, E. V. "Eddie" Rickenbacker, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Theodore Roosevelt.

Many of the private clubs, foundations, academic institutions, and philanthropic agencies that Davison joined and supported financially are documented in this series. Some of the organizations represented here include: Winston Churchill Memorial Foundation, Columbia University, Creek Club, Explorer's Club, Groton School, Hofstra University, National Recreation and Parks Association, Sagamore Hill Committee, and St. John's (Church) of Lattington, New York.

Davison, a life-long resident of Long Island, New York, took an active role in the Oyster Bay-Rye bridge dispute (folders 113-116). The debate over construction of this bridge brought Davison into conflict with an old "friend" and political adversary, Robert Moses. Davison's opposition to the bridge included his membership in the Non Partisan Civic Association, a formal body which protested the project. Davison also remained an active alumnus of Yale University and his service included that of Alumni Fellow of the Yale Corporation, 1931-1953. He also was a generous financial contributor to the university and assisted in the acquisition of Horse Island as well as in efforts on behalf of the class of 1918 (folders 177-181).

Additional files in this series include personal correspondence with friends and associates and biographical material on Davison and members of his family. Kate Trubee Davison, his mother, is memorialized in a biographical sketch (folder 43) and the Reverend Endicott Peabody, his father-in-law, was the subject of a documentary film which Davison financed (folders 125-129). Biographical material on Davison includes obituaries and sketches (folder 112). Davison also participated in two oral histories, for Columbia University (folder 34) and for the Herbert Hoover Oral History Program (folder 69). Transcripts and tapes of these oral histories are not located in the collection, only related correspondence.

SERIES II contains correspondence, photographs, and material assembled by Davison to document the history of the Yale Unit. Davison gathered his own materials and those items supplied by fellow members of the Yale Unit to assist in the creation of a two volume history of the unit written by Ralph D. Paine. The work was published in 1925, as The First Yale Unit, A Story of Naval Aviation 1916-1919. Additional material was gathered for the fiftieth anniversary of the naval air reserve in 1966.

Correspondence files for this series contain letters from many of the twelve original members of the Yale Unit, ten of whom were Yale graduates:

  1. Ames, Alan W. (Y. 1918)
  2. Brown, Wellesley Laud
  3. Davison, F. Trubee (Y. 1918)
  4. Davison, Henry P., Jr. (Y. 1920)
  5. Ditman, Albert J., Jr.
  6. Farwell, John V., III (Y. 1918)
  7. Gates, Artemus L. (Y. 1918)
  8. Gould, Erl C.B. (Y. 1918)
  9. Lovett, Robert A. (Y. 1918)
  10. Sturtevant, Albert D. (Y. 1916S), (killed during World War I)
  11. Vorys, John M. (Y. 1918)
  12. Wiman, Charles D. (Y. 1915S)

Davison also maintained correspondence files for those members of the Yale Unit who joined the group soon after the United States' entrance into World War I. Davison was critically injured during a training flight and was not an active pilot during the war. He was commissioned a lieutenant and served in an administrative capacity nonetheless. This incident no doubt facilitated his ability to compile a history of the unit, as many comrades wrote Davison on their war experiences.

  1. Beach, C. F. (Y. 1918)
  2. Brush, Graham M. (Y. 1917S)
  3. Coombe, Reginald G. (Y. 1918)
  4. Ingalls, David S. (Y. 1920)
  5. Ireland, R. Livingston (Y. 1918S)
  6. James, Oliver B. (Y. 1918)
  7. Landon, Henry H. (Y. 1917)
  8. Lawrence, George F., Jr. (Y. 1918)
  9. Lynch, Francis R. V. (Y. 1918S)
  10. MacLeish, Kenneth (Y. 1918), (killed during World War I)
  11. McIlwaine, Archibald G. (Y. 1918)
  12. Read, Curtis S. (Y. 1918), (killed during World War I)
  13. Rockefeller, William A. (Y. 1918)
  14. Smith, Kenneth Rose (Y. 1917S)
  15. Stewart, Charles M. (Y. 1917)
  16. Thompson, William P., II (Y. 1918S)
  17. Walker, Samuel S. (Y. 1917)

Correspondence files exist for these additional members, with the exceptions of R. Bartow Reed and Charles M. Stewart. In addition to correspondence, photos, and service records, brief historical essays written by the unit members are also found within some files. This material was useful for Paine's history as well as for an essay Davison contributed to Yale in the World War, edited by George Henry Nettleton, entitled "The First Yale Naval Aviation Unit."

Many members of the Yale Unit went on to distinguished military careers. Artemus L. "Di" Gates served as Assistant Secretary of War (for Air) in the Navy and as Under Secretary of the Navy. Robert A. Lovett also served as Assistant Secretary for War (for Air) in World War II and as Secretary of Defense from 1951-1953. Their correspondence files here reflect on their early military careers, however.

Other correspondence files consist of materials which document the business of organizing, financing and operating the Yale Unit. Prior to formal recognition of the unit by the navy in 1917, when it was designated "Aerial Coast Patrol Unit No. 1," the group was financed through the generosity of Davison's parents and his uncle, Daniel Pomeroy. Correspondence with private contractors who supplied equipment and service reflect on the unit's early days. These contractors include: American Trans Oceanic Company (folder 190), Curtiss Aeroplane Motor Company (folder 195), Erie Specialty Company (folder 207), Fyfe's Shipyard (folder 212), General Ordinance Company (folder 218), Hammond Radio Research Laboratory (folder 221), Sperry Gyroscope Company (folder 248), and Steel Fabrication Company (folder 249).

Davison's individual role in the formation and success of the Yale Unit, as well as the contributions of the Unit itself, were officially recognized in 1966. A television documentary "Fifty Years After" (folder 209) provided national publicity and coincided with commemorative ceremonies at the Long Island site where the unit first trained (folders 234-236) and with a special Navy League dinner in 1966 which featured an address and slide show on the Yale Unit and "The F. Trubee Davison Story" (folders 239-242; 266).

Photographs in this series relate specifically to the Yale Unit. They include slides used at the Navy League dinner in 1966. A photo album (folder 259) contains views of early aircraft, aviation efforts, and aviators. Dr. Alexander Graham Bell and his "Tetrahedral Kite" are included in this album. Among the snapshots from the Yale Unit's Forida training site are photographs of the "Mary Ann," the first aircraft used by the group.

Miscellanea includes training manuals used by the Yale Unit, and ephemera of Davison, including his dog tags, "wings," and compass.

SERIES III consists of personal photographs of F. Trubee Davison and his family from 1896- [ca. 1966]. In addition to portraits of Davison, campaign photographs, and group family photographs, there are views of exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History and the Martin Johnson African Expedition. Photographs for the Yale Unit are arranged in SERIES II and those items identifiable as enclosures are arranged in SERIES I.

SERIES IV contains microfilmed scrapbooks of clippings about Davison, his family, and aviation in general from 1921-1931. One scrapbook, volume 16, is missing from the numerical run of volumes 1-48. These scrapbooks do not consistently follow a chronological arrangement. The clippings provide a good deal of information about Davison's political careers as a New York state assemblyman, chairman of the National Crime Commission, and Assistant Secretary of War (for Air). These clippings appear to be a thorough compilation of articles from several newspapers across America.

Ten phonograph albums have been transferred to the Historical Sound Recordings section of Sterling Memorial Library. "Wings Over America" is a nine record set of radio shows broadcast in three installments on January 5, 12, 19, 1941. These shows dramatize several incidents in the development and history of the Yale Unit with the use of professional actors, although Wellesley Laud Brown and Kenneth R. Smith are interviewed and do supply their personal recollections. "The U.S. Navy: Patriotism" (disc 2; group 3) provides a brief summary of the accomplishments of Davison.

Mrs. F. Trubee Davison and her son, Endicott P. Davison, donated the Davison papers to Yale. The papers arrived in three separate installments in 1969, 1980, and 1982.

Other collections which contain letters of F. Trubee Davison include the Charles D. Hilles Papers (ms. group no. 281), the Inquiry Papers (ms. group no. 8), the Walter Lippman Papers (ms. group no. 326), the Samuel G. Watkins Papers (ms. group no. 698), the William A. Delano Papers (ms. group no. 178), the Dean Gooderham Acheson Papers (ms. group no. 1078), and the Charles A. Lindbergh Papers (ms. group no. 325).


  • 1882-1961


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Existence and Location of Copies

Scrapbooks, 1921-1931 are available on microfilm (7,516 frames on 7 reels, 35mm.) from Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, at cost. Order no. HM142.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Mrs. F. Trubee Davison and Endicott P. Davison in 1969, 1980, and 1982.


The papers are arranged in the following four series: I. GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE AND SPEECHES 1882-1978. II. FIRST YALE UNIT 1914-1979. III. PHOTOGRAPHS 1896-[ca. 1966]. IV. SCRAPBOOKS 1921-1931.


10.5 Linear Feet (21 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


Correspondence, speeches, scrapbooks, photographs and memorabilia documenting Davison's activities as founder of a Yale aviation unit during World War I, his political career in the Republican Party in New York State, his presidency of the American Museum of Natural History (1933-1951) and his activities in many foundations, academic institutions and philanthropies. The aspect of his life most thoroughly documented is his organization of a Yale flying unit, which was formally recognized by the Navy in 1917 for action in the war. The records include correspondence, financial and legal papers relating to the formation and operation of the unit, maps, photographs, ephemera and printed articles about the unit. A series of radio broadcasts (1941) on its history were recorded on phonograph discs (now in the Historical Sound Recordings of the Sterling Memorial Library) and slides made in 1966 in connection with a 50th anniversary celebration are also in the papers. Although his political career as a member of the New York State Assembly (1922-1926) and as Assistant Secretary of War (Air) from 1926 to 1933 is reflected in only a small amount of correspondence and speeches, he was in touch with notable public figures. Among them are Robert E. Byrd, Calvin Coolidge, Charles G. Dawes, Thomas Dewey, Dwight Eisenhower, Herbert Hoover, Charles A. Lindbergh, Douglas MacArthur, Robert Moses, Ernie Pyle, Eddie Rickenbacker, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt.

Biographical / Historical

Aviation pioneer; B.A. Yale, 1918, M.A., 1921; during World War I founded the first Yale aviation unit which formed the nucleus of the first naval reserve flying corps and was the foundation from which the U.S. naval aviation forces, foreign service, grew; admitted to bar, 1922; N.Y. State assemblyman, 1922-1926; Asst. Secretary of War, 1926-1933; president of Museum of Natural History, 1933-1951; dir. of personnel, C.I.A. 1951-1952.

Guide to the F. Trubee Davison Papers
Under Revision
compiled by William E. Brown, Jr.
May 1982
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

Yale University Library
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