William A. M. Burden (1906–1984): Chairman of the Advisory Committee for the Aviation Research Program, 1942–1948, and Honorary Curator, Aviation Literature, Baker Library, 1948–1952

Advisory Committee for the Aviation Research Program, 1946, b. 9, HBS Archives Photograph Collection: Buildings and Grounds, Baker Library, Harvard Business School

In 1942, with the strong support of leading aviation executives, the Harvard Business School established the Aviation Research Program to develop vital information and guidance that would benefit the industry’s rapidly accelerating war effort. An HBS advisory committee of industry and government representatives was formed to direct this work under the chairmanship of William A. M. Burden, who had been named Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Air in 1943; the committee held its first meeting in November 1944. As one airline executive explained, “Winning the war comes first, but in addition to that the fate of private enterprise in this country depends in no small part upon how good a management job we do during the war and I believe [the Aviation Research Program] can be a real help to us.”1

Burden’s business activities and government service up to that time made him a natural choice for chairman of the School’s advisory committee. In the private sector he worked as an aviation securities analyst for Brown Brothers, Harriman & Co. from 1928 to 1932; led aviation financial research at Scudder, Stevens & Clark from 1932 to 1939; served as director of United Air Lines Transport Corp. from 1935 to 1939; and was vice president and director of the National Aviation Corporation in 1939. In the public sector he served as vice president of the Defense Supplies Corporation in charge of American Republics Aviation Division from 1941 to 1942; served as Special Aviation Assistant to the Secretary of Commerce from 1942 to 1943; and served as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Air and a member of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics from 1943 to 1947. By the end of the Aviation Research Program’s first year, Dean Donald K. David wrote to Burden, “I am sure that our efforts would never have crystallized if it had not been for the [School’s] Advisory Committee and the leadership you gave that group.”2

 Aviation Room, 1952, b. 9, HBS Archives Photograph Collection: Buildings and Grounds, Baker Library, Harvard Business School

By September 1944, Baker Library started to build a separate collection on the business aspects of aviation to support the research conducted by the Aviation Research Program. The nascent collection was housed in a separate room with a special curator in charge, Ruth A. Sanborn. A few years earlier, when the Aviation Research Program was first under discussion, the Harvard Business School recognized that a collection of literature on the business aspects of the aviation industry would be vital to the research work. At a committee meeting on October 7, 1943, Dean David suggested that the School should undertake to build a comprehensive library of contemporary aviation literature, particularly important since the Aeronautical Institute of National Aviation, Inc., which formerly collected these materials, had stopped. The School agreed to allocate from the Aviation Research Fund for this purpose. By 1946, the collection became formally known as the Collection on the Business Aspects of Aviation. In addition to the Aviation Research Fund, gifts from William A. M. Burden and Albert I. Lodwick helped grow the collection. By 1947, it held approximately 1,450 bound volumes (including monographs and back issues of serials), 1,100 pamphlets, folders of newspaper clippings, and 67 periodical subscriptions in addition to the numerous Civil Aeronautics Board titles. In 1948, Burden was named Honorary Curator, Aviation Literature, for Baker Library.

1 “Aviation Research at Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration,” undated, Donald Kirk David, 1943–1955, Dean’s Office Files, Harvard Business School, b. 73, f. 8.

2 Donald K. David letter to William A. M. Burden, January 4, 1944, Donald Kirk David, 1943–1955, Dean’s Office Files, Harvard Business School, b. 73, f. 8.

Research Links: Archival Collections

William A. M. Burden Papers, 1934-1938

William A. M. Burden, Assistant Secretary of Commerce, Washington, Nov. 17, 1945, Harvard University Archives, © Yousuf Karsh

These papers consist of aviation industry investment analyses that William A. M. Burden prepared from 1934 to 1938. They include correspondence, inter-office memos, and in-depth research and analysis of airline companies within the fledgling industry. Burden’s investment analyses include stock prices for the given years, percentage of increase or decrease of stock holdings, and the overall percentage the aviation investments represented in Scudder, Stevens & Clark’s equity fund. Burden generated research reports once or twice per year with updates regarding the stocks’ movements. He reported on potential growth opportunities and recommendations to buy, sell, or hold based on industry factors, the overall economic health of the markets, and political conditions.

Donald Kirk David, 1943–1955, Dean’s Office Files, Harvard Business School

This collection consists of correspondence during David’s tenure as dean of the Harvard Business School from 1943 to 1955, including correspondence with Burden and on the topic of the Aviation Research Program.

Research Links: Books and Articles

Harvard University, Graduate School of Business Administration, Division of Research, Aviation Research at the Harvard Business School: A Report for 1942–1947 (Boston: Harvard University, 1948).

Irwin, Margaret S. “The Transportation Room at Baker Library.” Harvard Library Bulletin 8, no. 3 (Autumn 1954).

“Progress and Plans in Aviation Research.” Harvard Business School Alumni Bulletin 22 (Spring 1946–Winter 1947).

“Research Project on the Development of Air Transport and Manufacture.” Harvard Business School Alumni Bulletin 18 (Autumn 1941–Autumn 1942).

Sanborn, Ruth A. “The Aviation Collection at the Business School Library.” Harvard Library Bulletin 2, no. 2 (Spring 1948).