During the summer of 2009, UAL announced plans to sell facilities that house the corporation’s Elk Grove, Ill., complex of offices. In August, the UAHF Executive Team was advised of United’s plans to move the UAL archive collection to Willis Tower in Chicago, Ill., sometime in 2010. Updates will be posted here as details become available on this and the status of a potential collaboration between UAHF and UAL that is discussed below.
Please read the following background article on the UAHF's efforts since 2008 to work out a mutually beneficial solution with UAL to ensure the safe harbor of UAL’s large and diverse archive collection.
Partial view of the large collection of artifacts that include documentation and memorabilia spanning nine decades of United history from the 1920s to 2005
The United Airlines Historical Foundation’s mission is “Preserve the Past, Inspire the Future.” Living up to its responsibilities, the Foundation’s Board of Directors’ representatives initially sought to meet with officials at United to discuss UAHF’s proposal of March 19, 2008 to acquire and manage the archive collection. This collection consists of documents and memorabilia tracing the history of United Airlines and its predecessor companies, mergers and acquisitions from 1926 to 2005.
UAHF would like to provide the background of how the UAL collection came to be. In the mid-1960s, plans were approved by the UAL board of directors to build a United museum on the grounds of the Executive Office (EXO) in suburban Chicago. The museum was to be named after William A. (Pat) Patterson who served as President of United from 1934-1966 leading the company out of its pioneering past to become the world’s biggest airline.
United employee, Adrian Delfino, was selected to head the project and he began collecting memorabilia from early airmail pilots, mechanics, and former employees of United’s four predecessor airlines (Boeing Air Transport, National Air Transport, Pacific Air Transport and Varney Airlines) in addition to United active and retired employees. The collection was extensive.
UAL President William A. Patterson stepped down in 1966 and George Keck assumed the role of President. The company experienced losses and the museum project was cancelled. Some of the memorabilia was displayed in the lobby for a period of time at EXO but most of it was stored in a locked room in the basement of EXO where it remained until 1995 in a state of disarray.
The museum concept was resurrected by strong employee interest in 1995 and United paid for the construction of a mini-museum that was located in the large entry lobby of the Executive Suite and also extended to adjacent hallways.
An archive program was also created and staffed with one United employee who recruited over 15 volunteers from the Retired United Airlines Employees Association (RUAEA) and from the Chicago chapter of Clipped Wings. Retired UAL historian Adrian Delfino served as a consultant on many projects. All the memorabilia that was inherited as well as new acquisitions were numbered and logged in a database.
Special care was given to protect all of the objects in temperature controlled conditions. A traveling history exhibit was also funded which made the rounds to around five U.S. airports per year during a five year period. A history website, the most extensive in the industry, was developed at www.united.com as well as an oral history program. Utilizing the resources of the archives, the Age of Flight book was published in celebration of United’s 75th anniversary.
In 2005, one year before United Airlines exited bankruptcy, the archive program was eliminated and in 2006, the World Headquarters (WHQ) corporate museum exhibits were dismantled. The artifacts were again placed in “cold” storage in the basement of WHQ as they were prior to 1995.
"Preserve the Past, Inspire the Future"
Since the 1970s, UAHF has mounted displays of its own memorabilia at DENTK (Denver Flight Center) and it is there that the Foundation shares an office with RUAEA. Over the course of nearly thirty years, the UAHF has continued to mount displays and work in harmony with the United management team at DENTK. Although UAL announced parts of the Denver Flight Center are for sale in the Spring of 2009, the DENTK corporate leadership has offered the Foundation sufficient space to store the UAHF archive collection. Both UAHF and RUAEA have been offered ample working space and UAL will also support the relocation of Foundation displays at the DENTK facility.
It was the UAHF’s position to bring the remainder of the UAL archival collection into the hands of the Foundation as it has a vested long term interest in the United history, memorabilia and archives. The collection is comprised of the good faith donations from employees and retirees. The Foundation is a 501c3 tax exempt not for profit organization and has the capability to assume ownership of the archive collection. This transfer would have precluded officials at United Airlines from breaking up the collection and possibly selling it for profit.
In 2006, the UAHF reached out to the Retired United Airlines Employees Association (RUAEA) and entered into an informal alliance supporting the Foundation’s mission. Since then, the Retired United Pilots Association (RUPA), the Association of Flight Attendants-Communication Workers of America (AFA-CWA Retired Members’ Chapters), the International Association of Machinists (IAM) Local Lodge 1781 Retiree Association members in SFO and Clipped Wings® have also joined the alliance. Now, close to 17,000 retirees share the goal to preserve the rich history of United Airlines. This group is now called the UAHF Alliance Coalition.
In the spring of 2008, the leadership of each Alliance Coalition organization signed a letter to UAL in support of the UAHF efforts to meet with UAL as did the family of United’s founder, President and Chairman, the late William A. Patterson who directed their comments to United’s President Glenn Tilton. During the early fall of 2008, the Foundation reached out to unions representing workers at United Airlines and their response resulted in a joint letter of support to the UAL Corporation’s Board of Directors from the Union presidents.
The joint efforts described above resulted in an initial meeting with UAL representatives in November 2008 and again in January 2009, where they presented the UAHF with a draft “discussion document” for analysis and consideration. In May 2009, the draft document was updated to reflect a desire on United’s part to work towards a collaboration with the United Airlines Historical Foundation.
If you would like to become a member of the United Airlines Historical Foundation and/or make a tax deductible contribution, please click on the “Get Involved” link above.