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National Geographic Society - Army Air Corps Stratosphere Balloon Flight Collectibles

In the first three installments of the series on the Souvenirs and Collectibles of the National Geographic Society - Army Air Corps Stratosphere Balloon Flights, we discussed souvenirs and momentos from both the Explorer and Explorer II Balloon Fabric and the Dowmetal Coin.  This week we will begin a series on items that flew inside the Explorer and Explorer II Gondolas.


Undoubtedly the most scarce of all momentos related to the stratosphere balloon flights are small silk National Geographic Society flags that were carried aloft in both the Explorer and Explorer II Gondolas.  The flags measure 8" x 12".  They were presented framed with an accompanying letter.


I first became aware of the flags when I had the great fortune of interviewing Richard H. Stewart, National Geographic Society Staff Photographer for both flights.  Although Mr. Stewart was just shy of his 100th birthday and a residence of an assisted living facility in Maryland, he related many interesting stories about the aviators and life at the Stratobowl. During that time, his family was kind enough to show me a photocopy of the flag presented to him.


Further research at the National Geographic Society revealed that at least 33 flags from the 1934 flight of the Explorer Ballloon were presented as gifts to not only Richard Stewart, but to the Governor of South Dakota, Tom Berry, U. S. Army Air Corps Brig. Gen. Oscar Westover, the crew of the Explorer Balloon, NGS President Dr. Gilbert Grosvenor, as well as many other staff members of the National Geographic Society.  It is amazing that the flags were even presented considering that the flags had to be rescued from the shattered remains of the Explorer Gondola.


Records indicate that around 40 flags, flown in the Explorer II Gondola, were officially presented.  Those receiving flags from the November 1935 flight included President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Secretary of War, George H. Dern, Major General Benjamin D. Foulois, Chief, U.S. Army Air Corps, the balloon crew, Dr. Grosvenor, and many other NGS staff members.


Has anyone had the pleasure of adding one of these flags to their collection?  If so, please share your story.


Please see the attached photos.


Next week's topic...Official Stratosphere Mail.

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Are the two framed flags you attached in your posession -- or are they photos that others have shared with you?

And how did it come about that you were able to meet with Mr. R.H. Stewart? That was most fortuitous indeed.

- Scott S.
....and, speaking of NGS Flags, see attached.

(How I wish so badly that I owned one!!!!)

Yes, both flags are part of my collection. Both were purchased on Ebay. The Westover flag was part of a group of items that was simply listed as Oscar Westover Items. Obviously the tag caught my eye instantly. The seller was way out of line with his reserve, so I took a chance that no one else knew who Westover was and when the items did not realize his reserve, I negotiated with the seller for the lot. The lot also included a National Geographic Society Certificate naming Westover A Life Member of the Society, a framed RESOLUTION ADOPTED BY THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES IN THE PASSING OF MAJOR GENERAL OSCAR WESTOVER (Westover was killed in a plane crash on September 21, 1939), and two photos taken during his military career. The flag from the Explorer II Flight was listed as such, but I was the only bidder for the item (sometimes you just get lucky).

In short, I was able to meet Richard Stewart through the National Geographic Society. Nevertheless, it is a very interesting story. Contact me direct at and I can fill you in.





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