An Interwar Intelligence Gatherer


In a series of 3 posts based on his transcription of an original pocket diary donated by the Trevor family, JHC volunteer Seth Carlson gives us an insider’s view into the world of a Jay descendant and American “spy” living and travelling in Paris between World War I and II.

John Jay “Jack” Ide (1892-1962) was an American aviation and automobile pioneer and advocate as well as a great grandson of Founding Father, jurist and diplomat John Jay. His substantial knowledge of 20th century aviation and automobiles was grounded in gaining intelligence information on technology during the interwar period. At this time, Europe was in a state of shock and despair following the trauma of WWI but had achieved remarkable innovations in military war technology, prompting Ide to conduct additional research of his own. Based at the American Embassy in Paris during the 1920s and 30s, Ide realized rather quickly through observations of major wartime aircrafts and ships, including the Leviathan, Berengaria and the Hindenburg, that the United States was well behind the proverbial “curve” when it came to aviation and automobile technology. Ultimately, if the US and their allies were to maintain their power position after triumph in WWI, stem the rise of Fascism and repel a second world war, the US would have to distance itself from isolationist foreign policy pre-Roosevelt and begin to make their own aeronautic and engineering prowess known on the world stage.

In his 1928 diary, now in the JHC Collection, Jack Ide goes into great detail about his voyages to countries all over Europe, spanning from England to Czechoslovakia. He accounts for every aircraft, automobile and warship in his sight and makes copious observations regarding their construction, operating features and the individuals who oversee it all. He recounts  his meetings with air congresses and esteemed groups in the industry (Royal Air Force, BMW, Imperial Airways). As an acknowledged cultural aficionado, he also makes note of art and historical sites he encounters in each place (as seen in his appreciation of Durer Year in Nuremberg and impressions taken from famous art collections like The Prado). As Ide highlights each experience, notice the names of countries that are often repeated (Belgium, Germany, France, etc…) and famous individuals (Howard Carter, Charles Lindbergh, etc…), as well as names of specific aircrafts, ships, cars and other vehicles of the sort. These notes help us to decipher the intended goals of Ide and help scholars follow his eventual pioneering efforts through NASA’s precursor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics or NACA, to which he made substantial contributions.

* * * * *

My first thought: They don’t teach you about this guy in school. By “this guy”, I’m referring to Jack Ide, a Paris-based American aviation and automobile pioneer of the interwar period. Heck, I didn’t even know much about the Jay Mansion’s namesake, Founding Father John Jay from the Revolutionary and Early Republic Era before beginning my volunteer opportunity at JHC. This after having successfully taking AP US History in High School, even scoring well on the AP exam. I knew I was doing something special and unearthing new research when I saw  how little had been published about this descendant of a legendary American figure. This is what I felt sifting through and transcribing Ide’s firsthand diary from his wealth of travel experiences in 1928. Not only did I learn a lot about the individual but I learned so much about the lesser known history of his era, his day-to-day encounters as a diplomat and his passion for air technology and cars vividly expressed in his own handwriting . Sure, I might have known the overall narrative of the time period ranging between WWI and WW2 before diving into this primary source document, but going through this diary I was fascinated by this rare window into the field of aviation and technology, especially its development during the interwar period and how it would impact the world. The two diary transcriptions below help show Ide’s deep-rooted passion. And it encouraged me to want to learn more which I will share in my next post.

Monday June 11, 1928

Today I visited the R. A. F. [Royal Air Force] Experimental Air Station at Martlesham Heath with Major Harmon. We were accompanied by Flt. Lt. Wright from the Air Ministry. We were received by the commanding officer and shown over the station by Sq. Ldr. Noakes* the famous “crazy flying” expert. The outstanding feature was the Beardmore “Inflexible”. which has 3 RR condors, a span of 158 ft. and a weight of 18000 lbs.

*Squadron Leader Jack Noakes was an accomplished pilot known for his daring air maneuvers but also his bravery.  The “Inflexible” was at the time thought to be the heaviest aircraft in the world.

zeppelin 2

Wednesday June 13, 1928

Today, with Flt. Lt. Wright, I had the very interesting experience of visiting Cardington and seeing the 5,000,000 sq ft. airship R101. It will be ready for flight next January. It has 5 Beardmore 600 HP heavy oil engines. An amazing creation of steel and duralumin. Gp. Capt. Fellowes and Col. Richmond received us and we were shown over the factory by Major Scott. The R 101 will accommodate 150 passengers in 50 cabins.

*Duralumin was the trade name for an aluminum alloy used most famously for British airships and German zeppelins in the 1920s like the one above.



I am a rising college freshman about to start school at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. I intend to major in History and minor in Journalism, hoping to pursue a career in sports journalism. I graduated from New Rochelle High School in 2018, where I took all 3 AP History courses (World, US, European History) and a course in AP US Government, while also discovering how much of a math student I am NOT!  I wrote for my high school newspaper and played clarinet in the band, both activities which I will continue to pursue in college.

I’ve had a long time passion for history, from visiting historical sites on my yearly vacation to South Carolina and everywhere else I’ve been, to taking class trips to DC, and now researching historical documents at the Jay Heritage Center in Rye, NY (in fact, this is my first blog!). I plan to continue my study of history at the collegiate level, but have not yet decided if I will concentrate in one particular area. Other interests include watching/playing sports, video games, listening to all kinds of music, cooking (but not baking!) and of course writing.

american history, Volunteers , , , , ,

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