Guide to the Levitt Luzern Custer Papers

Levitt Luzern Custer Papers
Wright State University Libraries Special Collections and Archives
Phone: 937-775-2092
Custer, Levitt Luzern, 1888-1962
Bulk dates:
9.25 linear feet (and 8.08 GB)
Levitt Luzern Custer was a Dayton-area aviator and inventor, and an associate of Orville Wright. During his lifetime he engaged in pioneering balloon experiments, served as an official timer for flight trials, collaborated with Orville Wright on various projects, and invented a wide range of mechanical machines from the statoscope to amusement park rides. The collection documents many of Custer's achievements as well as those of other early aviators, such as the Wright Brothers. Information on early aviators such as the Early Birds who flew before 1916 are also preserved. Patents, blueprints, photographs, and correspondence are also a rich source of research.
The records are in English

Biography of Levitt Luzern Custer

Levitt Luzern Custer was born on July 27, 1888 in Dayton, Ohio. As a young boy, he frequented the Wright Brothers' Bicycle Shop, where he met the acquaintance of Wilbur and Orville Wright. Katherine Wright was his Latin teacher at Steele High School. This began a long friendship with the Wrights, particularly Orville.

Custer attended Central District School and Steele High School, both in Dayton. He then attended Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, and the Massachusetts Institute of technology in Cambridge, Mass.

After briefly working for the National cash register Company, he founded the Custer Specialty Company in 1916. There he developed mechanical devises such as the statoscope, cars, motorized invalid chairs, power scooters, and various amusement park rides.

Custer was also a figure in aviation. He was a pioneer in flying and racing hot air balloons. His father Levitt Elsworth Custer had done the same. Custer also became an official timer for the national Aeronautic Association and the Federation Aeronautique Internationale. Custer officiated with Orville Wright at world record flight trials at McCook Field and Patterson Field, both near Dayton.

Custer was a member of the Dayton Engineers' Club; Early Birds; National Association of Amusement Parks, Pools, and Beaches; Kiwanis; and Free Masons. Custer was also a member of the Westminster Presbyterian Church.

Custer had three sons, James, Randall, and Donald from his first marriage. In his second marriage to Gladys Mills he had one son, Don.

Scope and Content

Levitt Luzern Custer was an early aviator and this collection shows his accomplishments. There are early patents from his inventions, log books from when he timed for air races and photographs of his activities and the other famous aviators he worked with. Some records are missing that were probably destroyed in the 1965 fire that consumed his company.

Series I, Biographical, contains biographies written by and about Levitt Luzern Custer. Correspondences are also included within this series, and include letters from R.W. Schroeder, Walter R. Brookins, and J.H. Doolittle, all early aviators. Of particular interest are the files of his inventions.

Series II, Patents, includes original patents, most of which belong to Custer. Some other patents belong to his father, Levitt Elsworth Custer and another inventor John H. Hammond. Of major importance is the invention of the statoscope, a devise used to measure the change in altitude for a balloon, dirigible and other aircrafts.

Series III, Aviation Materials, contains materials related to aviation, excluding documents relating to the Wright Brothers, which are found in Series VI. Included in Series III are log books and information on the Early Birds, as well as some newspaper clippings.

Series IV, Publications, contains magazine and news publications. Of major interest is a souvenier copy of The Dayton Journal printed in the air from the balloon "Hoosier" on June 29, 1909. The original of this is found in the scrapbook found in Box 9, Series VII. Aviation journals such as the Aero Club of America's journal are also within this series.

Series V, Photographs, includes photographs of ballooning, aviation, famous early aviators, and inventors such as Henry Ford. The photos encompass the years 1910-1960.

Series VI, Wright Brothers Material, holds some very extraordinary materials. A photograph of the first flight with a signature by Orville Wright is preserved here along with other photos. Dedication documents, booklets, and other memorabilia are also found in this series.

Series VII, Scrapbooks, is two scrapbooks belonging to the Custer family. In these, are clippings, documents, and photographs of major events, such as clipping of the work of the Wright Brothers, photographs of the 1913 Dayton flood, and certificates awarded to Custer.

Series VIII, Films, contains brief 16-mm reels of aviation races, C.F. Kettering's 75th birthday party, and Dayton sporting events. In the final box are S-VHS copies of the 16mm original film. The S-VHS tapes are digitized for reference only and available in the E-Archives.

Series IX, Digitized Aviation Autograph Album dated 1945-1962, includes 258 digital scans and prints made from an album of aviation autographs collected by Custer. The original album spans 1945-1962, and was loaned to Special Collections and Archives in 2001 to digitize and then returned to the family. Each page was digitized and the file name corresponds to the page number. A few pages are blank. Custer collected the autographs at special events and club meetings, such as Early Bird Day at Governor's Island in 1954. Entries by notable aviation figures often include the date signed, a personal note to Luzern Custer, and accomplishments in the field of aviation. It is truly a Who's Who of aviation history.

Statement of Arrangement

The collection is arranged into 9 series:
Series I: Biographical, 1910-1968
Series II: Patents, 1909-1936, 1942
Series III: Aviation Materials, 1915-1962
Series IV: Publications, 1908-1958
Series V: Photographs, 1910-1960
Series VI: Wright Brothers Materials, 1903-1953, undated
Series VII: Scrapbooks, 1886-1956
Series VIII: Films, 1948-1951, 1954
Series IX: Digitized Aviation Autograph Album dated 1945-1962, 2001

Restrictions on Use

Copyright restrictions may apply. Unpublished manuscripts are protected by copyright. Permission to publish, quote or reproduce must be secured from the repository and the copyright holder.

Restrictions on Access

Original film is in frozen storage for preservation. To view content of film for reference, patrons should use the digitized files of the VHS tapes made from the original film (E-archives ms302_e0004). For higher quality reproductions, patrons may request digitization of the original film for the associated costs. Use of digitized content is subject to conditions governing use. There are no other restrictions on accessing material in this collection.

Related Material: Related Material

MS-1, Wright Brother's Collection

Subject Terms

The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


Amusement rides--1919-1939
Hot air balloons
Inventors -- Ohio -- Dayton


Beachey, Lincoln, 1887-1915
Brookins, Walter R., 1889-1953
Custer, Levitt Luzern, 1888-1962
Doolittle, James Harold, 1896-1993
Ford, Henry, 1863-1947
Harris, Harold R., 1897-1989
Kettering, Charles Franklin, 1876-1958
Wright, Orville, 1871-1948


Custer Specialty Company
Early Birds of Aviation (Organization)


Dayton (Ohio)

Material Types:

Acetate film

Technical Requirements

A computer is needed to view digital files of film (low resolution in mp4 format) and TIF files of the autograph album.

Preferred Citation

[Box #, Folder #], MS-302, Levitt Luzern Custer Papers, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio.

Acquisition Information

This collection was donated to the Wright State Special Collections and Archives by Levitt Luzern Custer's son, James Custer, in August of 2000.

Processing Information

Films in the collection were transferred to S-VHS tape by Special Collection and Archives circa 2000. The VHS tapes were digitized for reference only in a compressed file format (mp4) in 2019. For higher quality reproductions, patrons may request digitization of the original film for the associated costs.

Other Finding Aid

The finding aid is available on the Special Collections & Archives, Wright State University Libraries web site at

Collection Inventory

Series I: Biographical, 1910-1968

Box 1 / Folder 1
Biographical Documents, 1944, 1962, Undated

Box 1 / Folder 2
Correspondence, 1910-1968

Box 1 / Folder 3
Miscellaneous Files, 1937-1962

Box 1 / Folder 4
Inventions, 1935-1958

Box 1 / Folder 5
Blueprints and Drawings, 1949-1959

Series II: Patents, 1909-1942

Box 2 / Folder 1
Patents, 1909-1910

Box 2 / Folder 2
Patents, 1910-1915

Box 2 / Folder 3
Patents, 1919

Box 2 / Folder 4
Patents, 1922

Box 2 / Folder 5
Patents, 1927

Box 2 / Folder 6
Patents, 1930

Box 2 / Folder 7
Patents, 1931

Box 2 / Folder 8
Patents, 1933

Box 2 / Folder 9
Patents, 1935

Box 2 / Folder 10
Patents, 1936

Box 2 / Folder 11
Patents, 1942

Box 2 / Folder 12
Miscellaneous Patent Documents, undated

Series III: Aviation Materials, 1915-1962

Box 3 / Folder 1
Articles, 1960-1962

Box 3 / Folder 2
Log Books, 1915-1939

Box 3 / Folder 3
Log Books, 1939-1946

Box 3 / Folder 4
Log Books, 1944-1945

Box 3 / Folder 5
Log Book on Barograph Tape, 1924

Box 3 / Folder 6
Early Birds' CHIRP Magazine, 1953

Box 3 / Folder 7
Early Birds' Correspondence, 1960

Box 3 / Folder 8
Early Birds' Photographs, 1948-1959

Box 3 / Folder 9
Early Birds' Memorabilia, 1939-1959

Series IV: Publications, 1908-1958

Box 4 / Folder 1
Brochures, 1908-1954

Box 4 / Folder 2
Dayton Journal article, 1909

Box 4 / Folder 3
Aviation Journals, 1910-1919

Box 4 / Folder 4
Aero Club of America book, 1911

Box 4 / Folder 5
Aircraft Product Catalogues, 1919

Box 4 / Folder 6
Rule Book, 1922

Box 4 / Folder 7
International Air Races Monthly, 1924

Box 4 / Folder 8
Prague Conference Report, 1925

Box 4 / Folder 9
Flier of the Song "The Aviator", 1927

Box 4 / Folder 10
Bookmarks, 1935

Box 4 / Folder 11
Aeronautics Annual Report, 1938

Box 4 / Folder 12
Page from Who's Who in Aviation, 1943

Box 4 / Folder 13
Newspaper Articles, 1953

Box 4 / Folder 14
Air Show, Dayton Directory and Log, 1954

Box 4 / Folder 15
Congressional Record, 1958

Box 4 / Folder 16
Army Air Service Report, undated

Drawer 31 / Folder 2
National Aeronautics Association Review, 1924

Series V: Photographs, 1910-1960

Box 5 / Folder 1 / Piece 1
L.L. Custer and Balloon "Luzern", 1910

Box 5 / Folder 1 / Piece 2
W.R. Brookins at Simms Station, 1910

Box 5 / Folder 2
National Balloon Race, Kansas City, 1912

Box 5 / Folder 3 / Piece 1
Lincoln Beachey, photo with inscription, 1914

Box 5 / Folder 3 / Piece 2
Descriptor from the back of frame signed by L.L. Custer, undated

Box 5 / Folder 3 / Piece 3
Photograph of frame descriptor, undated

Box 5 / Folder 4 / Piece 1-3
Original and composite photos of flight off Reibold Building Dayton, Ohio, May 2, 1923

Box 5 / Folder 4 / Piece 4
Copy of negative of Lt. John Macready's World Altitude Record, undated

Box 5 / Folder 4 / Piece 5
Descriptor from back of frame of photo of L.L. Custer, undated

Box 5 / Folder 5
Photos and descriptors of World Altitude Record By Lt. John Macready, 1924

Box 5 / Folder 6
Steam Heat Head with L.L. Custer, Dayton Power And Light, 1955

Box 5 / Folder 7
General E.W. Rawlinger, signed, 1957

Box 5 / Folder 8
Brig. General Frank P. Lahm, signed with note from L.L. Custer, undated

Box 5 / Folder 9
Photo and copy of notable businessmen, undated

Box 5 / Folder 10
Portrait of L. L. Custer, undated

Box 5 / Folder 11
Photographs taken at Custer Specialty Co., 1939

Box 5 / Folder 12
Photos of Amusement Park Ride, 1959-1960

Box 5 / Folder 13
Military Equipment, undated

Box 5 / Folder 14
Portrait of Randall Custer, L. L. Custer's son, undated

Series VI: Wright Brothers Material, 1903-1953

Box 6 / Folder 1
First Flight Photo, signed by Orville Wright, 1903

Box 6 / Folder 2
Wright Flyer booklet, 1910

Box 6 / Folder 3
Dedication of Wright Home and Shop, 1938

Box 6 / Folder 4
Wright Brothers Hill dedication, 1940

Box 6 / Folder 5
Presentation of Wright 1903 Flyer to Smithsonian, 1948

Box 6 / Folder 6
Drawing of Wright Motor Crank Case, 1950

Box 6 / Folder 7
50th Anniversary of powered Flight, 1953

Box 6 / Folder 8
Orville Wright portrait signed, undated

Box 6 / Folder 9
Photographs, including Orville Wright, Henry Ford, Charles F. Kettering, undated

Box 6 / Folder 10
Manuscript by Custer My Intimate Association with the Wrights, undated

Box 6 / Folder 11
Christmas Card from Orville, undated

Box 6 / Folder 12
Other Memorabilia, undated

Series VII: Scrapbooks, 1886-1956

Box 7 / Folder 1
Volume 1 of Scrapbooks, 1886-1913

Location: Photocopies in OS LOC 66, File 1

Drawer 66 / Folder 2
Photocopies of Volume 2 of Scrapbooks, 1910-1928

Drawer 66 / Folder 3
Photocopies of Volume 3 of Scrapbooks, 1929-1945

Box 8 / Folder 1
Volume 4 of Scrapbooks, 1946-1956

Location: Photocopies in OS LOC 66, File 4

Series VIII: Films, 1948-1951, 1954

Box 9 / Folder 1
Air Race Cleveland Sept.4, 5, 6, 1948. Cleveland, Ohio: Levitt Luzern Custer, September 4-6, 1948. 1 film reel: (2:48); silent, color; 16mm., 1948 September 4-6

Box 9 / Folder 2
UD vs. St. Louis Football 1948. Levitt Luzern Custer, 1948. 1 film reel: (1:27); silent, color; 16mm., 1948

Box 9 / Folder 3
Universal Church North Chicago, July, 1949; Wright Field, 1948; Air Show/ Horse Race. Chicago, Illinois; Dayton, Ohio: Levitt Luzern Custer, 1948-1949.1 film reel: (0:14); silent; color; 16mm., 1948-1949

Box 9 / Folder 4
Marseilles, France; Oil Tanker; Edwin Shuey's 50th Anniversary May 1949. Marseilles, France: Levitt Luzern Custer, 1949. 1 film reel: (1:22); silent; color, 16mm., 1949

Box 9 / Folder 5
Gene Core Don Airplane 1950. Unknown place of publication: Levitt Luzern Custer, 1950. 1 film reel: (1:20); silent; color, 16mm., 1950

Box 9 / Folder 6
Detroit Air Races Aug. 17-18, 1951; Kettering-75th Birthday. Detroit, Michigan: Levitt Luzern Custer, 1951. 1 film reel: (1:21); silent; color, 16mm., 1951 August 17-18

Box 9 / Folder 7
National Air Races Dayton Airport Sept. 4, 5, 6, 1954. Dayton, Ohio: Levitt Luzern Custer, 1954. 1 of 2 film reel: (1:23); silent; color, 16mm., 1954 September 4-6

Box 9 / Folder 8
National Air Races Dayton Airport Sept. 4, 5, 6, 1954. Dayton, Ohio: Levitt Luzern Custer, 1954. 2 of 2 film reel: (1:24); silent; color, 16mm., 1954 September 4-6

Box 9 / Folder 9
Tighe "TY" and the Dayton Ducks. Unknown place of publication; Levitt Luzern Custer, 1950. 1 film reel: (1:22); silent; color, 16mm., 1950

Box 10 / Folder 1-9
Copies of 16mm reels onto S-VHS (Digitized as mp4 files for reference only in E-Archives ms302_e0004), circa 2000

Series IX: Digitized Aviation Autograph Album dated 1945-1962, 2001

Box 11 / Folder 1
CDs of 258 digital scans of Aviation Autograph Album with entries from 1945-1962 (use digital prints in Box 11, File 2 for reference or see E-Archives ms302_e0001-e0003 for TIF files), 2001

Restrictions on Access: Use digital prints in Box 11, File 2 for reference.

Box 11 / Folder 2
Digital prints of all autograph album pages with entries from 1945-1962, 2001