Authored by Erin Ajello
As Staten Island is often referred to as the forgotten borough, it unsurprising that it is a place with a rich, forgotten history. The above artifact, a page of missile blueprints from the S. S. White factory on Staten Island, shows a unique part of Staten Island’s war efforts during World War II.
The S. S. White factory was located on the South Shore of the island (Staten Island Advance 2011). This factory was known globally as “the largest dental manufacturing company in the world” (S. S. White 2018, 6). During the mid-twentieth century, it was known locally as “the largest employer in Staten Island” (S. S. White 2018, 40). During the World Wars, the factory produced airplane parts and worked on research (Staten Island Advance 2011).
The above blueprints were donated to the Staten Island Museum by an archivist descended from various Staten Island families. This archivist stated that the blueprints were created by Robert Feist while he worked as a draftsman at S. S. White. She also confirmed that Feist was contracted by the U. S. Government to draw up plans from a Hermes V2 rocket that had been taken from the Germans. His work was part of an international mission known as Project Hermes (White 1952). The research that went into studying this rocket had a tremendous influence on the beginning of America’s space program (Brief History of Rockets, n.d.).
Despite how significant this work was to our country, neither Robert Feist nor the S. S. White factory seems to have received any recognition for this work outside of Staten Island. The archivist who donated these blueprints mentioned that Feist had even planned on discarding them. Without the archivist saving and donating these to Staten Island Museum, these blueprints, as well as Staten Island’s role in World War II research, would not have been fully documented. While an archivist was able to intervene in this particular case, this is a reminder of the artifacts with significant value that are discarded before the public can learn from them. Archivists have a clear responsibility to preserve objects with significant cultural and historical value.
These blueprints are an example of an object that presents a perspective on a topic that has not received recognition. Presenting this artifact while sharing the story behind it allows for its conservation to be better appreciated, and such transparency adheres to the Vincentian goal of providing truth alongside knowledge. This goal is a fundamental aspect of the archivist’s role in society, and a core value of St John’s University. As the St. John’s mission statement declares: “St. John’s affirms the threefold mission of a university to seek truth through research, to disseminate it through teaching and to act on it” (St. John’s University, n.d.). The archivist who recognized the value of this artifact and allowed it to be preserved, researched, and publicly shared has shown this spirit.
Feist, Robert. 2018. [Hermes V2 rocket blueprints]. Retrieved from Genealogy collection, Burke donation (2018.3-14). Staten Island Museum, New York.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration. 2014. “Brief History of Rockets.” NASA.gov. https://www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/K-12/TRC/Rockets/history_of_rockets.html
S. S. White Technologies Inc. 2018. “History.” S. S. White.net. https://www.sswhite.net/history
St. John’s University. n.d. “Our Mission.” https://www.stjohns.edu/about/history-and-facts/our-mission
Staten Island Advance. March 27, 2011. “From Prince’s Bay, S.S. White was supplying the world’s dental needs.” StatenIslandAdvance.com. https://www.silive.com/specialreports/2011/03/ss_white_was_supplying_the_wor.html
White, L. D. 1952. “Final Report, Project Hermes V-2 Missile Program.” General Electric. Retrieved from: Smithsonian Libraries. https://ia800709.us.archive.org/0/items/finalreportproje00whit/finalreportproje00whit.pdf