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Walter Bird papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MS-0154

Scope and Contents

This collection documents the activities of Walter Bird, founder of Birdair, Inc. and a pioneer of lightweight structural design, including his activities as president of Birdair, Inc., industry leader and invited guest speaker at various conferences and institutions.

Some significant documents in the collection are Bird's published works and speeches on the topic of air structured architecture and fabric developments as well as photographs and slides of Bird's projects as early as 1948. Early sketches and drafts of writings and product models are also complied.

The collection documents press coverage of Birdair between the 1950s and 1990s. The collection contains various information, collected by Bird, on lightweight architecture, fabric, and related applications in the industry.

Materials in the collection are mainly textual, and include correspondence, publications, newspaper clippings. Photographs, models, fabric samples, and various other audio and visual materials are included in the collection.


  • 1912-2006


Language of Materials

Collection material in English.


Records that contain personally identifiable information are restricted in order to protect individual privacy. According to HIPAA Privacy Regulations patient evaluations and medical records are closed for 50 years after date of death. If date of death is unknown, records are closed for 100 years from date of creation. Folders that are restricted are marked as such.

Terms of Access

The bulk of the Walter Bird papers are open for research.


Copyright of papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns. Researchers must obtain the written permission of the holder(s) of copyright and the University Archives before publishing quotations from materials in the collection. Most papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures unless otherwise specified.

Biographical Note

Walter W. Bird graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a B.S. in Aeronautical Engineering. Specializing in lightweight structural design, Bird's early contributions included the first lightweight streamlined trains for the Pullman Standard Car Company and aircraft designs for the Curtiss-Wright Research Laboratory.

In response to the government's need for a means of enclosing and protecting large search radar antennas, Bird proposed the use of an air-supported enclosure and built the first large air-supported radome in 1948. The success of this project led to his interest in developing air-supported structures for many other applications. Credited with being the "father of the industry," Bird is recognized as the leading authority on the design and fabrication of air structures.

In 1956, Bird and his team moved from the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratories and founded Birdair, Inc. in Buffalo, New York where Bird worked until his retirement in 1981. The company has been committed to the technological development of structural fabric applications since its founding, and specialized in the design and manufacture of the air-supported structures and tensioned membranes that are used in dome, tent, and radome roofs.

Bird-designed structures appeared all over the world in sizes and forms that range from radomes for search radar antennas, to the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Reliant Stadium in Houston, Atlanta's Georgia Dome, Olympic stadium in Rome, the Denver Airport, London's Millennium Dome and the Haj Terminal in Saudi Arabia. During his career collaborated with prominent engineers and architects such as Edmund Happold, Victor Lundy, Peter Rice and Jane Wernick.

In recognition of his pioneering work in air structures, Bird received awards from the United States Department of the Army, the American Institute of Architects, and Canvas Products Association International.

Bird taught at the School of Architecture and Planning at the State University of New York at Buffalo from 1981 to1991, assisted the school in developing courses in experimental structures and a program in building science, which came under the direction of Gunter Schumitz, a professor of architecture.

He died on April 6, 2006 in Florida, at the age of 94.

The above was modified from University News, October 19, 1981, Biographical File, State University of New York at Buffalo, University Archives.

Historical Note

In 1956, Walter Bird, a pioneer in the design of lightweight structures, and his associates from Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory founded Birdair, Inc. in Buffalo, New York. The company has been committed to the technological development of structural fabric applications since its founding, and specialized in the design and manufacture of the air-supported structures and tensioned membranes that are used in dome, tent, and radome roofs.

The first PTFE (TeflonĀ® coated Fiberglass) permanent tensioned membrane structure was created by Birdair, Inc. at the project of the University of La Verne, California in 1973. Since then, the base of the tensioned membrane structures has became permanent building solutions for more than 450 architectural buildings in over 30 different countries from sports venues to transportation facilities, retail and entertainment centers to healthcare facilities and museums.

In 1979, Birdair, Inc. was sold to Chemfab, who later decided to create a joint stock company with Owens Corning called OC Birdair as a specialty roof contractor.

In 1992, OC Birdair was sold to Taiyo Corporation of Japan, and became a division of the company. Its engineering, design, and business development offices remain at 65 Lawrence Bell Drive, Amherst, New York.


Birdair, Inc., founded by Walter Bird and four fellow engineers from Cornell Aeronautical Laboratories.
Bird sells the company to Chemical Fabrics Corp., or Chemfab, of Merrimac, New Hampshire
Chemfab and Owens Corning form a joint venture, OC Birdair.
Osaka, Japan-based Taiyo Kogyo Corp. purchases a five percent stake in OC Birdair.
Taiyo increases its ownership stake to fifty percent, while Chemfab retains 50 percent.
Taiyo Purchases remaining fifty percent of the company.

The above was modified from Buffalo News, September 29, 1996.


12.5 Linear Feet (7 record cartons, 6 manuscript boxes, 1 half manuscript box, 1 card file box, 1 flat box, 2 oversize folders)


The papers of Walter Bird, founder of Birdair, Inc. and a pioneer of lightweight structural design, consist primarily of his professional activities.


This collection is arranged in five series:

Birdair Company Files; Industry; Publicity/Press Coverage; Walter Bird Personal Papers; Photographs/Slides/Other Media; Additional Material

Acquisition Information

The Walter Bird Papers were donated to the University Archives by Barbara J. Cranna and Donald and Alpine Bird in 2007.

Accruals and Additions

No further accruals are expected to this collection.

Separated Materials

Conversations in the Arts featuring Walter Bird has been removed to University Archives Video Collection.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Kuniko Simon, February 2008. Additional material processed and finding aid updated by Jessica Hollister, April 2018.

Finding Aid for the Walter Bird papers
Finding aid prepared by Kuniko Simon.
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared Using Local Best Practices
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the University Archives Repository

420 Capen Hall
Buffalo New York 14260-1674 US
716-645-3714 (Fax)