Cliff Henderson Photo Collection

Clifford William Henderson (1895-1984) was managing director of the National Air Races from 1928 to 1939. As one of the major sporting events of the time, the races provided the aviation industry opportunities to test and exhibit new planes, equipment, and fuels. They also attracted noted aviators such as Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, Jimmie Doolittle, and Roscoe Turner; and awarded prestigious tournament prizes including the Thompson, Bendix, and Greve trophies. Special exhibits staged on the grounds promoted commercial air transportation, showcasing passenger aircraft safety, speed, and comfort.

Born in Lenox, Iowa on July 11, 1895, Cliff Henderson moved to California in his early teens. He graduated from the University of Southern California in 1917 and enlisted as an ambulance driver in World War I, transferring to the Army Air Corps shortly before the Armistice. In 1924, he managed his first air show, commemorating the Santa Monica departure and return of the first U.S. Army Air Service aerial circumnavigation of the world. Henderson gained experience managing local air races in Santa Monica and Los Angeles throughout the later 1920s. In 1928, he was hired by the National Aeronautic Association (NAA) to promote the 1928 National Air Races at Los Angeles, and staged the annual event until the races were suspended after 1939 at the outbreak of World War II. Most of the races were held in Cleveland, Ohio with the exception of the 1930 race in Chicago, and the 1933 and 1936 races in Los Angeles.

In addition to the National Air Races, Henderson organized other air shows including the 1929 Western Aircraft Show, the 1930 New York Aircraft Salon, and the 1934 Pan-American International Air Races. In 1935, he and his brother Phil, built the Pan Pacific Civic Auditorium in Los Angeles, promoting sporting and cultural events, expositions, and conventions there. In 1940, he built the Pasadena Winter Garden, an ice skating venue. During World War II, Henderson served in the U.S. Army Air Corps, becoming military commissioner at Dakar in North Africa; and for his war service, he received the Ordre de l’Etoile du Benin. With other family members and investors, Henderson founded the community of Palm Desert in 1946, developing the 1,600-acre site near Palm Springs.

Married to the former actress Marian Marsh, Henderson died at Rancho Mirage on March 26, 1984. The NAA Clifford W. Henderson Trophy is awarded to honor individuals for outstanding contributions that further the development and advancement of aviation.

Link to the collection's Descriptive Finding Guide.

Link to the collection's images on Flickr

San Diego Air & Space Museum

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