Alert: Your Libraries are here for you. Learn more about library services during the pandemic.
Skip to main content
Use the right side menu to identify relevant boxes and place requests.

Elmo N. Pickerill papers

 Collection 0050-MMC-LAB
Elmo N. Pickerill was an early aeronautical radiographer who later worked at RCA (Radio Corporation of America). The collection contains correspondence, pamphlets, periodicals, clippings, books, memorabilia, photographs, and other papers relating to the early history of radio broadcasting and Pickerill's contributions to the broadcasting industry. The collection includes material about Lee de Forest, Guglielmo Marconi, David Sarnoff, and other broadcast pioneers. The bulk of the papers dates from the early 1920s to the 1950s.


  • Majority of material found within 1909-1969
  • 1910-1976

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open to the public and must be used in the Special Collections reading room. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.


5.00 Linear Feet (2 record storage containers 2 half-Hollingers 1 oversize flat box)

Scope and Content of Collection

This collection contains correspondence, clippings, books, memorabilia, photos, and other papers relating to the history of early radio broadcasting and Pickerill's contributions to the broadcasting industry. The collection includes material concerning Lee de Forest, Guglielmo Marconi, David Sarnoff, and other broadcast pioneers. The bulk of the papers dates from the early 1920s to the 1950s.


Elmo Neale Pickerill was born May 24, 1885 in Greenridge, Missouri. Over the course of his career, he made significant contributions to early wireless telegraphy and especially aircraft radio. Pickerill began his radio career as an employee from 1904 to 1906 of Dr. Lee de Forest, inventor of the triode radio tube.

Pickerill was active in the wireless telegraphy community leading up to World War I and throughout his radio career. In 1917, he served in the United States Army Signal Corps as a radio instructor. He joined the Army Air Service in 1918. In 1920, Pickerill joined RCA (Radio Corporation of America). At RCA in 1928, Pickerill became chief pilot of the aviation division. In the 1950s, he was both president of the Long Island Early Fliers Club and secretary of the Early Birds, an organization of pilots trained by the U.S. Air Force prior to 1916 in preparation for World War I. Pickerill retired from RCA in 1950. Elmo N. Pickerill died on January 15, 1968.

Beginning in the 1930s, Pickerill frequently asserted that he was unofficially the first person to receive and transmit radio signals from an airplane to a ground station. Recent research casts this claim into doubt. Pickerill stated that his flight occurred on August 4, 1910 as he flew a Wright Model B from Mineola, Long Island to Manhattan Beach and back again. The first documented person to receive and transmit radio signals from airplane to a ground station was John McCurdy on August 27, 1910, one week after Pickerill's alleged achievement. The U.S. Air Force endorsed Pickerill's achievement in 1944, but there is no documentation prior to 1931 supporting Pickerill's claim. In addition, the Wright Model B was not introduced to the public until a week following Pickerill's supposed flight. He also professed to be an Early Bird, but the first record of his career as a pilot was in 1918 when he joined the Army Air Service. Pickerill, if not the pioneer of aircraft radio as he declared, was still an accomplished early aviator who significantly advanced aircraft radio and wireless telegraphy.


The Elmo N. Pickerill papers are arranged as seven series. Within each series, materials are arranged by topic and date. The clippings and photographs series are arranged by format. Oversize clippings and photographs are arranged by format and topic.
Series 1
Series 2
Series 3
Series 4
Awards and Licenses
Series 5
Personal Effects
Series 6
Series 7

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

This collection was donated to the University of Maryland Libraries by Eugene Baker, the administrator of Elmo N. Pickerill's estate, in 1976.

Related Material

There are two other related collections available in archives in the Washington, D.C. area: the Elmo Neale Pickerill papers at National Air and Space Museum Archives and the Elmo N. Pickerell papers at the Library of Congress.

Separated Materials

Magazines, newspapers, clippings, and pamphlets that did not mention Elmo Pickerill were removed from the collection.


The following source was consulted in writing the biographical statement.

Processing Information

Aside from some rough groupings of similar material, the collection came to the Libraries in no particular order. The processing archivist arranged files into separate series, however, there is overlap among the series such as photographs. In most cases, materials have been arranged chronologically by topic or grouped by format.

Many of the original folders were replaced with acid-free folders and assigned labels. Unlabeled folders were assigned labels. Most photographs and negatives were separated from non-photographic materials within each folder by acid-free paper or envelopes. Oversize items, including newspapers and clippings, were removed from their original locations and placed in separate boxes. The entire collection was re-boxed.

One folder documenting Pickerill's correspondence with the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum about a collection he donated to that museum was added to the administrative control file. Please consult an archivist if you would like to view this folder.
Guide to the the Elmo N. Pickerill papers
Library of American Broadcasting, 2002. Significantly revised by Jen Wachtel, 2019.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Revision Statements

  • 2012-08-21: Tagged with relevant subject headings- Chuck Howell.
  • 2017-11-05: Finding aid reviewed and edited by Rebecca Thayer.
  • 2019-06-2019: Minor revisions to the extents, abstract, scope and content note, related materials, conditions governing use and access, and processing information post-ArchiveSpace migration by Jen Wachtel. .
  • 2019-12-09: Inventory, arrangement note, and deaccessions added; processing note, extents, and dates updated by Jen Wachtel.
  • 2019-12-12: Biography updated to reflect current research and conditions governing access updated by Jen Wachtel.
  • 2020-01-07: Series-level scope and content notes, extents, and dates updated by Jen Wachtel.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742