Guide to the Bert R. J. Hassell Collection, 1893 - 1974
H080-88

 Finding aid prepared by Liana Jones.

Collection Overview

Repository
Special Collections and Archives Division, History of Aviation Collection.
Creator - Author
Hassell, Bert R. J., Mr., (Bruce Raymond John), 1893-1974, Fish
Title
Bert R. J. Hassell Collection
ID
H080-88
Date [bulk]
Bulk, 1928-1988
Date [inclusive]
1917-1989
Extent
2.4 Linear feet (One manuscript box, one non-standard box (24.1 x 18.7 x 1.5).)
Language of Materials
Collection is in English.
Abstract
Bert "Fish" Hassell was a pioneer aviator and began his flying career in 1914. His idea for a shorter, more direct route from the United States to Europe through the Great Circle Route in the arctic led to his famous emergency landing on the Greenland ice cap in 1928. In 1954 he helped construct the Distant Early Warning System. In 1969 Hassell's plane was recovered from Greenland and airlifted back to Rockford, Illinois. Hassell's daughter, Mary Hassell Lyons, played a major role in the restoration and permanent display of his plane, as well as the publication of his autobiography, Fish Hassell, a Viking with Wings: An Autobiography.

Citation

Bert R. J. Hassell Collection, Document name or type, Folder number, Box number, Series number, History of Aviation Collection, Special Collections and Archives Division, Eugene McDermott Library, The University of Texas at Dallas.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

Special Collections and Archives Division, History of Aviation Collection.

800 West Campbell Road, MC33
Richardson, TX, 75080-3021
972-883-2570
[email protected]

Access Restrictions

Materials in this collection are open for research.

Literary Rights Statement

Permission to publish material from this collection in any form, current or future, must be obtained from the Special Collections and Archives Division, Eugene McDermott Library, The University of Texas at Dallas.

Provenance Statement

The Bert R. J. Hassell Collection was donated to the History of Aviation Collection, Special Collections and Archives Division, Eugene McDermott Library, The University of Texas at Dallas, by his daughter, Mary Hassell Lyons, on June 20, 1988.

Note to the Researcher

The collection is in fair condition as one of the letters was torn, some of the photographs were stained on the back, and some of the manuscript pages were also stained. Photographs - depending on their size - were either housed in polypropylene sleeves or interleaved between acid-free paper in the folder. Captions and notes taped to photographs were removed if the removal would not cause damage. Staples and paper clips were also removed and replaced with coated paper clips where needed.

Oversized materials and memorabilia were pulled from their original location and housed in one non-standard box. Cross references on separation sheets of acid-free paper indicate their former location.

Material Removed List

0.2 linear ft. (one half of a manuscript box) of duplicate clippings, advertisements, and booklets, unrelated clippings, photograph protectors, one folder, captions, and a binder with sleeves are being recycled.

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Controlled Access Headings

Personal Name(s)

  • Hassell, Bert R. J., Mr., (Bruce Raymond John), 1893-1974, Fish

Subject(s)

  • History of Aviation Collection

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Biographical Sketch

Bert "Fish" Hassell was born on October 4th, 1893 in Marinette, Wisconsin to parents Ellis and Elizabeth Hassell. For a time he was expected to go into the family business and run a ladies furniture store like his father, and later he was sent to study the ministry, but Hassell was interested in other things. After leaving Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, he worked for the Cole Automobile Company as a car jockey. There he met Glenn H. Curtiss, an aviation builder and competitor of the Wright brothers. Curtiss convinced him to take flying lessons. On June 15, 1914 Hassell received his pilot's liscense.

Hassell then began flying exhibitions, barnstorming, stunt flying, and selling rides around New York before making his way to western Michigan. He earned his nickname "Fish" by making one too many emergency landings in bodies of water. While in Grand Rapids, Michigan he came up with the idea of "bombing" customers with copies of newspapers. This was the first instance of delivering daily newspapers by air.

Just before World War I Hassell became the head instructor of the Curtiss Aviation School. In 1917, when the United States first entered the war, he was named second lieutenant in the army signal corps. Shortly after, he transferred to McCook Field and became a test pilot for Curtiss planes in addition to his work as an instructor. By the end of the war, Hassell was the first lieutenant in the signal corps. His friend, Eddie Stinson, then convinced Hassell to leave the army and become more involved in aviation. Once out of the army, he used his aviation skills to work for the post office as well as more barn storming and stunt flying.

In 1926 Hassell had the idea that making a route across the Great Circle beginning at some point in the northern midwest and ending in either England or the Scandinavian peninsula would provide great military and commerical benefits to the United States. Hassell and his co-pilot Parker "Shorty" Cramer eventually decided to test this route by flying from Rockford, Illinois to Sweden, with a stop for fuel at the Sondre Stromfjord airport in Greenland. Hassell had his friend Eddie Stinson build him a plane capable of carrying 700 gallons of fuel - a Stinson Detroiter, later called The Greater Rockford, with a larger oil resevoir and a fuel tank in the cabin. Elmer Etes was chosen as the mechanic. During the initial attempt on August 16, 1928 Hassell and Cramer crashed in a cornfield shortly after take-off because the fuel tanks were too heavy. The second attempt on August 16, 1928 was more successful, and they managed to stay in the air for over twenty four hours.

While flying over Greenland, high winds slowed the plane down and blew them off course. They ran out of fuel before they could reach their fuel stop at Sondre Stromfjord, but Hassell managed to land them safely on the ice cap. After radioing a message that they had landed safely, he and Cramer set out on a fourteen-day walk to their base camp. Etes and the other members of the camp waited for days, and after two weeks began to think that Hassell and Cramer were lost. As the camp was getting ready to leave, an Inuit fishing party spotted the smoke from a fire that Hassell and Cramer had built. The fishing party reported what they saw to the camp, and Etes and another member of the party set out in a small boat to rescue the two pilots. Hassell, Cramer, and the other members of the camp boarded a sloop called the Nakuak in order to reach Godthaab (called Nuuk after 1948), the capital of Greenland. Three days later they were forced to board the  Nipisak when the  Nakuak sank after having hit a reef.

Eventually the party made it to Godthaab, and from there Hassell and Cramer set off for the United States by way of various ships. Once they had arrived, they were received with enthusaistic welcome, and were even able to meet with president Calvin Coolidge and then-President-elect Herbert Hoover. In 1941 Hassell returned to the military and was eventually put in charge of bases in Labrador and Greenland, which were points on the Great Circle Route he had first attempted to fly so many years before. After World War II he left military service for a brief two years before returning and serving as a member of a U.S. Support Group in England.

In 1954 Hassell was ordered to retire from the military. After he returned to Rockford, Illinois he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and it was estimated that he only had only two years to live. Immediately he began working on building the Distant Early Warning System, a connection of radar stations across the arctic that became the best air security system in the United States all through the 1950s.

In 1967 pilot and aviation artist Robert Carlin visited with Hassell, interested in painting a picture of The Greater Rockford and curious about the status of the plane. When he heard that the Stinson was still on the Greenland ice cap and in fair condition he resolved to bring it back to Rockford. After a 1968 journey to Greenland to see the state of the plane, Carlin and Hassell's two sons decided to arrange to bring the  The Greater Rockford home themselves when the military declined to transport it back to the United States. With the help of Greenlandair, the Houston-based Aircraft Leasing Corporation, as well as King Frederik IX of Denmark the plane was airlifted back to Machesney airport in Rockford on June 17, 1969.

The Greater Rockford was put on display at the Colonial Village Shopping Mall in Rockford before being stored in a hangar at Machesney airport. After hearing that the airport was to be turned into shops, Hassell had the plane moved to the SST Aviation Museum, located in Kissimmee, Florida. Later, Hassell's family found that the museum was in danger of being shut down and had yet to begin the planned restoration of the Stinson, so his family arranged for the plane to return to Rockford in 1978.  The Greater Rockford was restored over the next decade, and was eventually put on permanent display at the Midway Village Museum in Rockford, Illinois in 1988.

Hassell's daughter, Mary Hassell Lyons, played a major role in ensuring The Greater Rockford's restoration and permanent display, as well as the publication of her father's autobiography,  Fish Hassell, a Viking with Wings: An Autobiography, published in 1987.

Bert "Fish" Hassell died on September 12, 1974 at the age of 81, and was buried with military honors.

Source
 Thomas M. Reay. The fantastic story of the 'Hiking Viking' Bert R. J. "Fish" Hassell: Pioneer Pilot, Patriot, and Adventurer, sine loco: H. C. Johnson Press, n.d.,  Bert R. J. Hassell Collection, Folder 1, Box 1, Series I., History of Aviation Collection, Special Collections and Archives Division, Eugene McDermott Library, The University of Texas at Dallas.
Source
 Ravitts, Gail S. "Bert R. J. Hassell and Parker D. Shorty Cramer: Pilots of a Remarkable Rockford-to-Stockholm Flight." Aviation History. September 2000. Accessed May 14, 2016. http://www.historynet.com/bert-rj-fish-hassell-and-parker-d-shorty-cramer-pilots-of-a-remarkable-rockford-to-stockholm-flight.htm.
Source
 "Bert R. J. Hassell." Early Birds of Aviation, Inc. Accessed May 14, 2016. http://earlyaviators.com/ehassell.htm.
Source
 "Rutgers University - New Brunswick." Wikipedia. Last modified April 27, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rutgers_University_%E2%80%93_New_Brunswick.
Source
 Groom, Winston. "The Last Pilot." Garden & Gun. June-July 2011. http://gardenandgun.com/article/lost-pilot.
Source
 "Kangerlussuaq." Wikipedia. Last modified March 10, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kangerlussuaq.
Source
 "Nuuk." Wikipedia. Last modified June 18, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuuk

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Scope and Content

This collection contains photographs, correspondence, booklets, a poster, clippings, narratives, a sketch, ephemera, memorabilia, manuscript, and other materials that were created or collected by Bert R. J. Hassell and his daughter Mary Hassell Lyons in order to publish his manuscript and tell his story. The Bert R. J. Hassell Collection is housed in one manuscript box and one non-standard box totaling 1.9 linear ft.

The collection arrived in fair condition and was arranged by the processing archivist. The curator identified six series with the first series being the Personal Life Series, which is further organized into five subseries: 1. Biographical Information, 2. Dean Todd, 3. Donald McVicar, 4. Elmer Etes, and 5. Mary Hassell Lyons.

Subseries 1. consists of photographs depicting Hassell flying his plane, receiving awards, as well as portraits; a booklet and other narratives about his life; correspondence from various pilots talking about their experiences with Bert Hassell; an inventory of materials donated to The University of Texas at Dallas; and clippings covering Hassell and his partner's rescue from the ice cap, a celebration honoring Hassell's achievements, and the recovery and return of his plane to Rockford, Illinois.

Subseries 2. contains clippings and correspondence about Dean Todd's experiences as a pilot.

Subseries 3. includes a photograph of a mural; correspondence about Donald McVicar's experiences as a pilot, with Bert Hassell, as well as his impression of Hassell's book; and clippings from Donald McVicar's own book.

Subseries 4. features an autobiography of aviator Elmer Etes; clippings about him; his enlistment and discharge records; his notes on Bert Hassell; correspondence from Hassell and others praising and recommending Etes; a welder qualification document; photographs of Greenland; cards and correspondence congratulating Etes; and a periodical about aviation.

Subseries 5. contains handwritten notes from Mary Hassell Lyons to George Haddaway suggesting materials to include in the "Air Library" and photographs of Bert Hassell's pilot liscense, the restoration of his plane, and of portions of an exhibit focusing on his flight to Greenland.

The second series is the Publication series, and includes materials focusing on the publication of Bert Hassell's autobiography Fish Hassell: A Viking with Wings. The series is organized into seven subseries: 1. Advertisement and Publicity, 2. Correspondence, 3. Manuscript, 4. Manuscript Images, 5. Reviews, 6. Review Correspondence, and 7. Unrelated Reviews.

Subseries 1. contains advertisements of Bert Hassell's book; clippings giving information about the Hassell's flight to Greenland, his other experiences as a pilot, and how to purchase a copy of his autobiography; and a poster illustrating Hassell's plane in flight.

Subseries 2. is made up of correspondence from George Haddaway to editors discussing Bert Hassell's autobiography; from Mary Hassell Lyons to George Haddayway about various aspects of the publication of her father's autobiography; from Devon Francis to George Haddaway about his personal life as well as changes to Hassell's manuscript; notes listing various editors and publications; and correspondence from Mary Hassell Lyons to George Haddaway relating to publication of the manuscript as well as renovation to her father's plane, nomination of the book for an award, plans for exhibition of the plane in a museum, plans for collecting materials and donating them to archives, and discussion of a misprint of a photograph of Bert Hassell flying his plane above a city street.

Subseries 3. contains a manuscript telling of Bert Hassell's and his copilot's experiences after crash landing and walking for days across the Greenland icecap.

Subseries 4. features a letter from Mary Hassell Lyons to George Haddaway discussing an idea for a cover for her father's autobiography; and forty six photographs suggested for inclusion in the finished book, including images of Bert Hassell and his family, the Greenland icecap, aerial views of Hassell's plane on the icecap decades after the crash, recovery of Hassell's plane, and Hassell viewing the plane after it was brought back to Rockford, Illinois.

Subseries 5. comprises reviews from various authors describing Bert Hassell's autobiography.

Subseries 6. includes correspondence from George Haddaway, a publisher, and various editors concerning potential reviews of Bert Hassell's autobiography.

Subseries 7. consists of clippings of a review written by George Haddaway and a short piece mentioning his review as well as some of his contributions to avaiation groups; and a clipping of several reviews of different texts from a variety of authors.

The third series is the Recovery and Exhibit series and features clippings, correspondence, and photographs concerning the return of Bert Hassell's plane to Rockford, Illinois, its restoration, and its display in museums.

The fourth series, is the Films series, and contains correspondence from Mary Hassell Lyons to George Haddaway concerning transference of super 8mm films to VHS and splicing 16mm film from 1928; a slide presentation on VHS containing images of the recovery of Bert Hassell's plane, its return to Rockford, Illinois, its display on the West Coast, and its restoration; converting the films into a documentary film and a shorter presentation film; discussion of plans for background music and images of Bert Hassell's funeral. This series also contains a small square of fabric from Bert Hassell's plane after it was recovered from the Greenland ice cap.

The fifth series is the Fragments series, and it includes short notes, and portions of longer works written about Bert Hassell's experiences with flying and how he and Dean Tod converted his diary into his autobiography.

The sixth series, is the Paul Redfern series, and contains a program for the memorial plaque dedication of Paul Redfern, a pilot who went missing after attempting to fly from Brunswick, Georgia to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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Series Description

The Bert R. J. Hassell Collection is arranged in six series:

Series I. Personal Life 0.31 linear ft. (six manuscript folders, one oversized folder), 1922-1988.

Arranged in five subseries: 1. Biographical Information, 2. Dean Todd, 3. Donald McVicar, 4. Elmer Etes, and 5. Mary Hassell Lyons.

Subseries 1. Biographical Information 0.21 linear ft. (one manuscript folder, one oversized folder), 1963-1988.

Arranged alphabetically by topic.

Subseries 2. Dean Todd 0.1 linear ft. (one folder), 1988.

Arranged alphabetically by topic.

Subseries 3. Donald McVicar 0.1 linear ft. (one folder), 1988.

Arranged by topic.

Subseries 4. Elmer Etes 0.12 linear ft. (two folders), 1922-1983.

Arranged by topic.

Subseries 5. Mary Hassell Lyons 0.1 linear ft. (one folder), Undated.

Arranged by topic.

Series II. Publication 0.73 linear ft. (eleven manuscript folders, three oversized folders),1917-1988.

Arranged in seven subseries: 1. Advertisement and Publicity, 2. Correspondence, 3. Manuscript, 4. Manuscript Images, 5. Reviews, 6. Review Correspondence, and 7. Unrelated Reviews.

Subseries 1. Advertisement and Publicity 0.27 linear ft. (one manuscript folder, one oversized folder), Undated.

Arranged by topic.

Subseries 2. Correspondence 0.1 linear feet (five folders), 1981-1988.

Arranged chronologically by topic.

Subseries 3. Manuscript 0.02 linear ft. (one folder), Undated.

Arranged by topic.

Subseries 4. Manuscript Images 0.25 linear ft. (one manuscript folder, one oversized folder), 1917-1981.

Arranged by topic.

Subseries 5. Reviews 0.27 linear ft. (one manuscript folder, one oversized folder), Undated.

Arranged by topic.

Subseries 6. Review Correspondence 0.1 linear ft. (one folder), 1987-1988.

Arranged choronologically by date.

Subseries 7. Unrelated Reviews 0.1 linear ft. (one folder), 1987-1988.

Arranged by topic.

Series III. Recovery and Exhibit 0.27 linear ft. (one manuscript folder, one oversized folder), Undated.

Arranged by topic.

Series IV. Films 0.1 linear ft. (one folder), 1988-1989.

Arranged by chronologically by date.

Series V. Fragments 0.1 linear ft. (one folder), Undated.

Arranged by topic.

Series VI. Paul Redfern 0.1 linear ft. (one folder), 1969 June 16.

Arranged by topic.

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Related Materials

Additional Sources

For more information about Bert Hassell, view the Midway Village Museum, the Illinois Aviation Hall of Fame, and the Bert R. J. Hassell Collection in the National Archives.

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Image ID

It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission from copyright holders of materials to which this institution does not own copyright.

Images in this collection are identified by a unique number that provides information about the format, record group, collection, box, folder, and image numbers. Please use this number when ordering reproductions of images from this collection.

Record Group Code

1 = CAT/Air America Archives

2 = Doolittle Archives

3 = Lighter than Air Archives

4 = George H. Williams, Jr., World War I Aviation Library

5 = History of Aviation Archives

6 = University Archives

7 = HAC Stacks

8 = WPRL Stacks

9 = Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Collection

10 = Belsterling Collection

11 = Closed Stacks

12 = Unidentified

13 = Chance Vought Archives

14 = Twirly Birds Archives

Image Format Code

P = Photograph/Postcard

S = Slide

N = Negative

T = Positive Transparency

B = Black and White

C = Color

Example : 5BJH-1-1-PB1

5 = History of Aviation Archives (HAC)

BJH = Bert R. J. Hassell Collection

1 = Box Number

1 = Folder Number

P = Photograph/Postcard

B = Black and White

1 = Image Number

Images archived in plastic image holders may also have a location code in the format: 1/TL. In this example, the number is the sheet number and the letters indicate the top left position on the sheet. Position indicators are T = top, L = left, R = right, M = middle, and B = bottom. Position indicators may be combined to describe the position on the sheet, as shown in this example.

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Collection Inventory

Series I. Personal Life 

Subseries 1. Biographical Information 

Biographical Infromation. 1963-1988   Image number 5BJH-1-1-PB1 through 5BJH-1-1-PB4, booklets, clippings, correspondence, inventory, and narrative.


    Box Folder
Mixed materials   1 1

Processing Information note

Oversized clippings moved to box 2, folder 1.

Clippings. 1928-1978 


    Box Folder
Text   2 1

Subseries 2. Dean Todd 

Clippings and Correspondence. 1982-1988 


    Box Folder
Mixed materials   1 2

Subseries 3. Donald McVicar 

Correspondence. Undated   Image number 5BJH-1-3-PC1, correspondence, and clippings.


    Box Folder
Mixed materials   1 3

Subseries 4. Elmer Etes 

Book. 1983 


    Box Folder
Books   1 4

Scrapbook. 1922-1970   Image number 5BJH-1-5-PB1 through 5BJH-1-5-PB2, cards, clippings, correspondence, discharge papers and enlistment record, notes, and a periodical.


    Box Folder
Mixed materials   1 5

Subseries 5. Mary Hassell Lyons 

Donation Correspondence. Undated   Image number 5BJH-1-6-PC1 through 5BJH-1-6PC15, correspondence, and envelopes.


    Box Folder
Mixed materials   1 6

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Series II. Publication 

Subseries 1. Advertisement and Publicity 

Advertisements. Undated   Advertisements and clippings.


    Box Folder
Mixed materials   1 7

Note to the Researcher

Oversized clippings and poster moved to box 2, folder 2.

Advertisements. Undated   Clippings and Poster.


    Box Folder
Mixed materials   2 2

Subseries 2. Correspondence 

Sent by George Haddaway. 1987-1988   Correspondence, a clipping, and a buisiness card.


    Box Folder
Text   1 8

Sent by Mary Hassell Lyons. 1981-1988   Correspondence.


    Box Folder
Text   1 9

Received by George Haddaway. 1981-1988   Correspondence.


    Box Folder
Text   1 10

Notes. Undated   Written notes.


    Box Folder
Text   1 11

Related Correspondence. 1987 June-December   Correspondence.


    Box Folder
Text   1 12

Subseries 3. Manuscript 

Narrative Rockport-to-Stockholm Flight. Undated   Manuscript.


    Box Folder
Text   1 13

Subseries 4. Manuscript Images 

Images. 1917-1981   Image number 5BJH-1-14-PB1 through 5BJH-1-14-PB58, correspondence, and sketch.


    Box Folder
Mixed materials   1 14

Note to the Researcher

Oversized canvas piece moved to box 2, folder 3.

Canvas Piece. Undated 


    Box Folder
Realia   2 3

Subseries 5. Reviews 

Reviews. Undated   Reviews and clippings.


    Box Folder
Mixed materials   1 15

Note to the Researcher

Oversized clipping moved to box 2, folder 4.

Review. 1988 February 29   Clipping.


    Box Folder
Text   2 4

Subseries 6. Review Correspondence 

Correspondence. 1987-1988 


    Box Folder
Text   1 16

Subseries 7. Unrelated Reviews 

Clippings. 1987-1988 


    Box Folder
Text   1 17

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Series III. Recovery and Exhibit 

Recovery and Exhibit. Undated   Image number 5BJH-1-18-PC1 through 5BJH-1-18-PC13, clippings, and correspondence.


    Box Folder
Mixed materials   1 18

Note to the Researcher

Oversized clippings moved to box 2, folder 5.

Clippings. 1968-1969 


    Box Folder
Text   2 5

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Series IV. Films 

Correspondence. 1988-1989   Correspondence and a piece of fabric.


    Box Folder
Text   1 19

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Series V. Fragments 

Fragments. Undated   Notes and fragments of longer written works.


    Box Folder
Text   1 20

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Series VI. Paul Redfern 

Memorial Dedication Program 1969 June 16 


    Box Folder
Ephemera   1 21

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