Over There, Over Everywhere: The Aero Service Collection at the Library Company of Philadelphia

  • Author: Nicole Joniec
  • Published: October 9, 2014

The following post is by Carl H. Winnefeld, Jr., Guest Blogger for the Library Company of Philadelphia


Street of Blondefontaine- Dec. 26-1918. Gelatin silver photograph. Library Company of Philadelphia

The Aero Service Collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia contains material (primarily photographic images) acquired by the Aero Service Corporation and its president, Virgil Kauffman over a 40 year time frame. Aero Service was founded in Philadelphia in 1919 as Pennsylvania Aero Service and remained based in Philadelphia until 1973 when it relocated to Houston, Texas. The company operated on a worldwide basis.  Its primary business was aerial photography, photogrammetry (the use of photography in surveying and mapping to measure distances between objects), and remote sensing using an airborne magnetometer. In 1934 Aero Service worked with the Tennessee Valley Authority to map areas where the TVA was responsible for developing watershed resources. In 1947 Aero Service flew one of the first large airborne magnetometer surveys using Shoran navigation control over the Bahamas.


Jules Schick Photography, Virgil Kauffman, gelatin silver photograph, March 18, 1958. Library Company of Philadelphia

The Aero Service Corporation’s longtime president Virgil Kauffman (portrait above) was born in Yardley Pennsylvania in 1898. With the onset of World War I, Kauffman was assigned to the Corps of Engineers Photography School. The Army Air Corps utilized aerial photography for intelligence during the war and Kauffman was assigned to participate in the aerial reconnaissance missions, making this his introduction to aerial photography. After the war, he joined Aero Service in 1924 and directed the company from 1927 to 1961. His contributions to the scientific and technical world were wide ranging and significant. In 1966 he funded the Virgil Kauffman Gold Medal to be awarded by the Society of Exploration Geophysicists for outstanding contribution in geophysical exploration.  Kauffman was associated with the School of Earth Sciences at Stanford University from 1961 to 1985. Virgil Kauffman passed away in 1985.

The first image above shows the village of Blondefontaine, France in the winter of 1918 immediately after the war. Blondefontaine is located 285 kilometers southeast of Paris. The village today looks very much as it did in 1918. The image below is a description of the scene written by Virgil Kauffman. The photograph provides a view of just how grim it must have been during the war years in France.


Verso of Street of Blondefontaine- Dec. 26-1918. Library Company of Philadelphia

Might It Have Worked?

  • Author: Andrew Mangravite
  • Published: July 30, 2014

Count Alfred von Schlieffen had a plan for a quick victory if and when Germany had to simultaneously engage the forces of France and Russia in combat. Fighting a war on two fronts would give most sensible planners pause, but as von Schlieffen reckoned the matter, it was all a matter of timing. The vaunted “Russian steamroller” would need time to build its momentum. The smart thing was to quickly engage and finish off the French forces then the army could pivot and turn its attentions to the Russians.

Although von Schlieffen thought he had taken every possibility into account, he ignored the fact that his plan disregarded an earlier strategic plan drawn up by Helmuth von Moltke the Elder in the aftermath of Prussia’s victory in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. The elder von Moltke envisioned a main thrust against Russia and a lesser effort against the French who had already been tested and bested in battle. But von Schieffen had no way of knowing that his successor as Chief of the German General Staff would be none other than Helmuth von Moltke the Younger. The younger von Moltke didn’t think much of the new plan. Why make that long swing through Luxembourg, Belgium and Holland and then down the coast to attack France, “letting the last man on the right brush the Channel with his sleeve” as von Schlieffen put it? It was faster and more efficient simply to cut through Belgium to reach northern France. The Belgians wouldn’t put up much of a fight. After all, their neutrality was only a scrap of paper.

One fact overlooked by both von Schlieffen and von Moltke was the London Treaty of 1839. Yes, as it turned out Britain had an agreement to come to Belgium’s aid if Belgium was attacked. This small but effective cog in ”The Machine” doomed any German hopes for a quick victory over France that might induce Britain to ignore their Entente cordiale. Before a single German boot touched French soil, Great Britain was already pulled into the war.

Over the years much ink has been spilled over the question: might the von Schieffen Plan, if left unaltered, have delivered to Germany the one-two knockout punch that it promised? It seems odd that a plan so long in the developing would be so cavalierly altered at the end. Of course 1905 was not 1914 and von Moltke acted in the manner he thought would most benefit Germany’s interests. But as it turned out, the Belgians proved an unexpectedly tough nut to crack. The French managed to rally their forces at the Marne. The British landed an Expeditionary Force in France, and no one would be going home before the leaves fell.

The Machine

  • Author: Andrew Mangravite
  • Published: July 14, 2014

It all began with German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. He had two concerns—one, that France might try to reclaim land lost to Germany in the Franco-Prussian War, two that Russia might continue making advances into the Balkans. So, in 1882 he proposed what he considered would be a defensive alliance with the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Kingdom of Italy, the thought being that the Hapsburgs would contain Russian ambitions, while France would he faced with a two-front war—Germany to the northeast and Italy to the southeast if she attempted an offensive.

Neither the French nor the Russians were happy with Bismarck’s solution. France was left isolated, and Russia felt disrespected, so the answer for their diplomats was to form new alliances. In 1904 France signed the Entente Cordiale with Great Britain. The French had a much larger land army than Britain, but Britain’s fleet was without peer and once hostilities actually broke out, soon proved that control over shipping and the sea-lanes was no small weapon in one’s arsenal.  So at this point France could say that if they attacked Germany, Italy would attack them, yes, but Britain and her formidable fleet would move against them both.

Thus far, this system of alliances was, in its own strange way about preventing wars. In essence it was saying, “Look, I’m a little guy, but if you attack me, my bigger stronger friend will attack you.” If Russia thought a victory over Austria-Hungary would be easy, they had to re-think things if suddenly Germany, with the largest and strongest of all European land armies, would move against them.  Similarly, if Germany had an urge to attack France, they would be confronted with the mighty Royal Navy.

England further involved herself by signing the Anglo-Russian Convention in 1907. Now, if Russia decided to take on Austria-Hungary, it was true that they would have to face the German army, but Germany and her Hapsburg allies would face retaliation at the hands of the Royal Navy. In theory this would all work as long as the players were rational and took their national interests into account.

But true believers are rarely rational and Young Serbia felt that the Hapsburgs had no place in the Balkans. When Gavrilo Princip fired his pistol, he wasn’t thinking much about the ultimate interests of England, Germany, France or even Russia, “the Mother of the Slavs.”

Now there was an all-but insurmountable problem. Each of the potential combatants, with the exception of Britain and Germany had dealt with politically-motivated assassinations of their heads-of-state, and none of them approved of the custom. Austria-Hungary was the aggrieved party—the heir to their throne and his pregnant wife had been murdered. What were they to do? A volley of pistol-shots had set in motion a machine that there was no stopping.

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Last Modified: July 14, 2014