The Ed Morrow Special Collection

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Ed Morrow with his drawings, in front of image of Charles Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis.

Back in July 2009, the Library & Archives received a significant donation of the Ed Morrow papers. An additional donation was made in 2018 and combined with the original into one collection. The donated material consists of photographs, negatives, magazines, books, newspapers, correspondence, blueprints, and drawings that range from the late 1920s to modern day and is noteworthy to San Diego’s early development as a “Cradle of Aviation.”

Born October 8, 1899 in Kent, Sherman County, Oregon, Herbert Edwin “Ed” Morrow was the oldest of eight children and lived on the family farm in Oregon until his early twenties. As a young boy, he was fascinated by the flight of birds and enjoyed making kites and gliders. He developed his mechanical skills by riding and working on cars and motorcycles. By the age of 22, he had experienced three airplane rides – the first one in 1913, and by 23, he contacted T.C. Ryan of Ryan Airlines and Flying Company and came to San Diego in November 1925 to learn to fly. He soloed in February 1926 and as a student mechanic, helped in constructing the first Ryan M-1.

Morrow was hired in January 1926 as a metal fitting maker and promoted in February to the head of that department. He was a dedicated worker for Ryan Airlines and a key team member that built Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis. As the metal-fitting foreman, Morrow built the aircraft with precise specifications and requirements and personally fit parts on the plane under the direct supervision of Charles Lindbergh himself. Morrow was also the last Ryan employee to say goodbye to Lindbergh as he left the factory to fly his soon-to-be famous plane, The Spirit of St. Louis.

T. Claude Ryan and Frank Mahoney dissolved their partnership in Ryan Airlines, Incorporated, at about the time Charles Lindbergh contacted the company and went their separate ways. Mahoney retained the company during the construction of the Spirit, but after the flight, Mahoney moved the company to St. Louis and offered Morrow a position. Morrow preferred to stay in San Diego and accepted a position at Airtech as a ground school instructor, then as Chief of Ground School. However, due to the onset of the Depression, he was laid off and returned to the family farm in Oregon in 1931.

From left to right, Ed Morrow, Dapper Dan Burdett (in cap), and John van der Linde on the Ryan Cloudster, c. 1926.

About September 1933, he contacted his friend “Dapper Dan” Burdett, who shared his letter with T. Claude Ryan, and whose company, The T.C. Ryan Aeronautical Company, was busy building the Ryan STs. Morrow was hired back with the company the following month.

During his time there, Morrow said he had “a hand in the building of all STs and PTs,” and converted Tex Rankin’s ST for stunt flying. He also worked on the YO-51 Dragonfly and the XFR-1 Fireball.

In 1935, Morrow married Donna Fagan and had two sons. In 1945, after their divorce, he returned to Oregon and found his mother gravely ill. She passed away two months later, and he decided to stay with his father. Morrow was also interested in geology, and became known in Oregon as “The Flying Geologist.”

Several years after the original Spirit of St. Louis flew in 1927, Morrow drew up plans from memory, which were later used to help build the aircraft used in the 1957 film, “The Spirit of St. Louis” starring Jimmy Stewart. In December 1959, Morrow married Dorothy Hill and together they returned to San Diego soon after retirement.

Morrow became active with the San Diego Aerospace Museum in 1979 to help build the second replica of the Spirit of St. Louis.The Museum's first Spirit of St. Louis, a reproduction lost when the museum was destroyed in a 1978 arson fire, was built in 1967 by Hollywood's veteran aviator stunt pilots, Frank Tallman and Paul Mantz to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Lindbergh's flight.

Dorothy Morrow passed away in February 1989, and Ed passed away five years later on December 7, 1994 in Santee, California.

The material within the collection is arranged in five archival boxes by material type, size, and subject, and is available for research.

San Diego Air & Space Museum

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