Skip to main content

Robert E. Lee Papers

Identifier: H071-02

Scope and Content Note

The Robert E. Lee Papers is a small collection covering the years 1909-1973. The material in this collection includes newspaper clippings highlighting the life of Robert E. Lee; an engine data plate from a Wright Flyer; documents from the Wright Flying School; military records; correspondence from Orville Wright, King George V, Aero Club of America, and Dwight D. Eisenhower; and photographs of Lee, his aircraft, and a photo of Lee in an air race with Glenn Curtiss.


  • 1909 - 1957
  • Majority of material found within 1915 - 1946

Language of Materials

Collection is in English.

Access Restrictions

Materials in this collection are open for research.

Literary Rights Statements

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.

Biographical Sketch

Robert Edward Lee was a pioneer aviator, born in Midland, Texas March 9, 1896 and is a direct descendent of the famous Civil War General, Robert E. Lee. Lee' s aviation career parallels the growth of aviation and spans two world wars. He also had a successful career in the oil business, holding patents on inventions for use in oil fields.

Lee became interested in aviation when he watched a balloon ascension in Philadelphia in 1907. Wanting to learn more about aviation, Lee attended the Thomas Aviation School in Ithaca, New York and after graduating, moved to Los Angeles where he built his own airplane. His homemade plane managed to reach an altitude of 500 feet and a speed of fifty miles per hour. He also crashed twice, fortunately without injury.

After two crashes, Lee decided he needed flying lessons, so he enrolled in the Wright Flying School, owned and operated by Wilbur and Orville Wright. The course consisted of four hours of instruction costing Lee a total of 400 dollars. He graduated in 1915 with the first graduating class of the Wright Flying School. Getting his pilot's license in 1915 earned him a spot in the Early Birds Club, an organization of pilots who received their wings prior to 1916.

In WWI, Lee commanded the 47th Aero Squadron in France. His squadron's area of operations meant that they often went up against the Red Baron's Flying Circus. In fact, Lee himself encountered the Red Baron on an observation mission. Upon spotting the Red Baron's plane, Lee stated: "I just ran away from him. I did not feel up to fighting him."

While serving in France in WWI, Lee was shot down twice. The first time he was wounded in the leg; nearly losing it; the second time was the day before the Armistice was signed. Lee suffered severe burns as a result of the second crash.

With the outbreak of WWII, Lee again entered the United States Army Air Force, serving as the commanding officer of the 55th Air Depot, Des Moines AAF. Upon separation from the U.S.A.A.F. at war's end, Lee had obtained the rank of Lt. Colonel.

As a civilian, Lee was involved in the oil business. He invented the Lee Angular Drill, for which he received a patent, and is credited as one of the first to work with airborne magnetometers. Lee founded the Lee Geophysical Company, a firm involved in geophysical exploration.

Lee was active in several organizations and institutions including the Masons. He was a commander of American Legion Ray Post number 231 in Coleman, Texas; an industrial counselor for the Research Institute of Oklahoma University; a member of the American Geophysical Union, Geochemical Society, Society of Organic Chemistry, Early Birds, and served as an advisory member to the History of Aviation Archives, Special Collections and Archive Division, Eugene McDermott Library, The University of Texas at Dallas. He also participated in the groundbreaking for the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. Lee passed away at the age of eighty-seven in Coleman, Texas, on September 13, 1973.


The "Abilene Reporter-News." 09 November 1957
The "Coleman Democrat-Voice." 18 September 1973
"Robert E. Lee Papers," Folder 6, Box 1, History of Aviation Archives, Special Collections and Archives Division, Eugene McDermott Library, The University of Texas at Dallas.


0.2 Linear Feet (One half-size manuscript box)


Robert E. Lee (1896-1973) was a pioneer aviator from Midland, Texas. During World War I, Lee was in command of the 47th Aero Squadron of the United States Army Air Service, and in World War II, he served as commander of the 55th Air Depot in Des Moines, Iowa for the Army Air Force. After the war he became involved in the oil business and invented a new type of drill bit.

Series Description

The collection arrived in good condition and was initially processed with only a container list as description. Due to a change of the content management software, further description proved to be necessary.

Provenance Statement

The Robert E. Lee Papers were donated to the History of Aviation Archives, Special Collections and Archives Division, Eugene McDermott Library, The University of Texas at Dallas, by Richard R. Lee, Jr. on 2002-12-17.

Additional Sources

Additional information about Robert E. Lee's World War I career can be found in the History of Aviation Archives in the following collections:

George H. Williams, Jr. World War I Aviation Library, Iver O. Penttinen Collection, and George H. Williams, Jr. Collection.

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, series, box, folder, and image numbers. Please use this number when ordering reproductions of images from this collection.

Record Group Code

1 = CAT/Air American 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: 5REL-1-1-PC1

5 = History of Aviation Archives (HAC)

REL = Robert E. Lee Papers

= Series Number

1 = Box Number

1 = Folder Number

P = Photograph/Postcard

C = Color

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.

Note to the Researcher

Material is in good condition.
Guide to the Robert E. Lee Papers, 1896-1973
Paul A. Oelkrug, CA
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
English (eng)
Edition statement
First Revision by Thomas Allen, PhD, CA. 2018-05-10.

Revision Statements

  • 2018-05-10: 1st revision was a migration to ArchivesSpace Thomas Allen, PhD, CA.

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and Archives Division, History of Aviation Archives. Repository

3020 Waterview Pkwy
Suite 11.206
Richardson Texas 75080 US
972-883-4590 (Fax)