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Fowler (Harlan D.) Papers
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Access
  • Separated Material
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Processing Information
  • Biographical History
  • Chronology of Employment
  • Related Material
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Arrangement
  • Immediate Source of Acquisition

  • Language of Material: English
    Contributing Institution: SJSU Special Collections & Archives
    Title: Harlan D. Fowler Papers
    Identifier/Call Number: MSS-1995-04
    Physical Description: 17 boxes (27.5 linear feet) Collection also includes materials in 2 flat file drawers, 5 freestanding models and one Fowler Flap Model in a box.
    Date (inclusive): 1920-1980
    Abstract: The Harlan D. Fowler Papers (1920-1980) document the career of Harlan D. Fowler, inventor and aviation engineer. The collection consists of his professional papers including technical reports, blueprints, original data, technical publications, drawings, and photographs, as well as airplane models relating primarily to the Fowler flap and the Fowler-designed air cargo container.


    Collection is open for research, however, the negatives and the Fowler drawings are restricted. Written permission is required to access these drawings, and usage of the materials is subject to approval by the San Jose State University Library Director of Special Collections & Archives.

    Separated Material

    All large-scale blueprints noted in the collection are stored separately in flat-file storage. A model of an airplane cargo container, which was previously part of this collection, is owned by the SJSU Aviation and Technology Department.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright is assigned to the San José State University Special Collections & Archives. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Director of Special Collections. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Special Collections & Archives. Copyright restrictions may apply to digital reproductions of the original materials. Use of digital files is restricted to research and educational purposes.

    Preferred Citation

    Harlan D. Fowler Papers, MSS-1995-04, San José State University Library Special Collections & Archives.

    Processing Information

    Collection processed by Sara Chabino Lott in 2004. Revised by Mary Ellen Petrich in 2009. Encoded by Mary Ellen Petrich. Reviewed by Danelle Moon and Erin Louthen. Accruals added and finding aid updated by Samira Habibi April 2018. Accrual added and finding aid updated by Eilene Lueck March 2022.

    Biographical History

    Born June 18, 1895, Harlan Davey Fowler grew up in Sacramento, California. Fowler married twice and had two children. He spent his professional life as an aeronautical engineer and inventor. He died on April 27, 1982.
    The year 1917 marked the beginning of Fowler's life-long career as an aeronautical engineer and inventor. Fowler worked as an independent consultant and also for a number of aeronautical firms including: Fokker, The Glenn L. Martin Co., Convair, Douglas Aircraft Co., Fowler Aircraft Co., the Bureau of Aeronautics, and the U.S. Air Force. He also patented twenty inventions, the most significant of which include: Variable-Area Wing, 1921, patent #1392005; Cargo Container for Airplanes, 1948, patent #2442459; and Convertible VTOL Aircraft, 1963, patent #3093347, and 1967, patent #3312426.
    His greatest professional achievement was the development of the variable area wing, commonly known as the Fowler flap. The Fowler flap is a high-lift device located on the trailing edge of an airplane wing that increases wing area and lift. During the late 1910s and early 1920s, many engineers experimented with wings, slots and flaps to improve airplane performance. Fowler developed a flap that slid back from the wing and rotated down, creating a slot. This flap increased the curvature and area of the wing, which tunes it to operate more efficiently at lower speeds occurring during take-off and landing. The design and testing of the Fowler flap was performed as a private venture, using Fowler's own time and funds.
    In the summer of 1927, Fowler and airplane mechanic Stanley Crowfoot first tested the Fowler flap. Several years of tests followed, after which the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) concluded that the Fowler flap would reduce landing speed, decrease landing and take-off runs, and improve climbing ability. In 1937 Lockheed added the flap to the Lockheed 14 twin-engine airliner. Previously the flap had been used on German planes such as the Fieseler Fi 97. Later it was used on Boeing B-29 bombers, some versions of the Lockheed P-38 Lightning, and the Boeing B-17. Today, variations of the Fowler flap are still being used on many commercial aircraft.
    In 1949 the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania awarded Fowler with the John Price Wetherill Medal for the development of the "Variable Lift Airplane Wing." In 1971 the Institute elected him to Life Fellow Membership. Fowler was active in the Society of Automotive Engineers and was elected to the status of Fellow in 1977.
    Fowler wrote a comprehensive text on flap design, Fowler Flaps for Airplanes: An Engineering Handbook (1948). He also published three books outside his field: Camels to California (1950), Three Caravans to Yuma (1980), and Behold the Flaming Sword (1983).

    Chronology of Employment

    Chronology of Employment

    1910 Built man-carrying kites of Cody/Hargrave type.
    1917 Signal Corps; Aeronautical Engineer Production.
    1919-1920 McCook Field, Dayton, OH. Engineering Division; Assistant Engineer in charge of design.
    1921 Mather Field, Sacramento, CA; Assistant Engineer; Aerial Forest Fire Patrol.
    1922-1925 G. Elias & Bros., Buffalo, N.Y.; Aeromarine Plane and Motor Co.; Naval Aircraft Factory.
    1925-1927 Pitcairn Aviation Co., Philadelphia, PA.
    1927 U.S. Army Air Corps; Engineer.
    1928 Miller Corp., New Brunswick, NJ; Chief Aeronautical Engineer.
    1929-1936 Glenn L. Martin Co., Baltimore, MD; Staff Engineer.
    1943 Fowler Aircraft Co., San Diego, CA.
    1946 Independent Consulting Aeronautical Engineer. Whittier, CA.
    1951 McCook Field, Dayton, OH; Engineering Division.
    1956-1957 Independent Consulting Aeronautical Engineer. Longmont, CO.
    1962-1974 Independent Aeronautical Consultant. Burlingame, CA.
    1975-1982 Retired. Solvang, CA.

    Related Material

    San José State University Department of Aviation and Technology Records, MSS-2010-06-08

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Harlan D. Fowler Papers (1920-1980) document the career of Harlan D. Fowler, inventor and aviation engineer. Fowler is recognized for inventing the Fowler flap, a variable area wing high-lift device for aircraft still used on most commercial airplanes today. The collection consists of his professional papers including technical reports, blueprints, original data, technical publications, drawings, and photographs, as well as airplane models relating primarily to the Fowler flap and the Fowler-designed air cargo container. This collection documents the history of technology, the history of aviation, and the development of the aircraft industry during World War II.


    The collection is arranged into nine series: Series I. Commercial Uses of Fowler Designs; Series II. Fowler-Designed Aerodynamic Flow Control Devices; Series III. Original Fowler Aircraft Designs and Data; Series IV. Air Cargo Reports and Data; Series V. Miscellaneous Reports; Series VI. Aircraft Conversion Reports and Data; Series VII. Artifacts; Series VIII. Publications; and Series IX. Images.

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    Donated by Harlan D. Fowler in 2004.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Airplanes -- Design and construction -- History
    Fowler flaps
    Aeronautics -- Research -- United States -- History
    Aeronautics -- History -- 20th century
    San José State University. Library. Special Collections & Archives