Sharing the Common Wealth showcases objects, artifacts, documents, structures and buildings from the collections of PHMC.
Piper Cub

The Piper J-3 Cub at The State Museum of Pennsylvania. Photo by Kyle R. Weaver

Even before the William Penn Memorial Museum was under construction in the early 1960s, PHMC Executive Director S.K. Stevens had initiated an ambitious plan to acquire objects for a massive Pennsylvania “transportation exhibit.” The gallery was to be arranged chronologically, starting with a pair of Indian moccasins, on to wagons and carriages, then to locomotives and automobiles, and ending with an airplane. With the expansive space that was planned, scale would not an issue.

One company that was quick to answer the call was the Piper Aircraft Corporation of Lock Haven, Clinton County. As early as August 1961 Piper agreed to restore an airplane and donate it to the collection. Nearly four years later on May 20, 1965, a J-3 Cub arrived at the newly built museum.

The company’s founder, William T. Piper (1881–1970), originally made his fortune in the oil well business in Bradford, McKean County. When the Bradford Chamber of Commerce sought to finance Taylor Brothers Aircraft Corporation in 1929 to produce inexpensive private light airplanes, Piper was selected to serve on the company’s board of directors. Although sales were slow at first for Taylor Brothers, Piper’s interest grew and he continued to invest in it. On September 12, 1930, Taylor flew its first Cub airplane, but in 1931 with the Depression in full force, the company had to file for bankruptcy. Then by 1934, as Piper later recalled, “Everyone who was still flying was starved into using Cubs.” That year sales increased to 71 Cubs from the previous year’s 17. The figure rose to 200 in 1935, and the following year it increased to more than 500. In 1936 Piper bought out Taylor, and the next year he moved operations to Lock Haven, where the company became Piper Aircraft Corporation. In the same year production of J-3 Cubs began.

Made to be affordable to the average American, the J-3 was the most popular Cub model ever made. Nearly 2,000 were sold from 1938 until the model was discontinued in 1947. The Cub made its mark in history during World War II. Top brass, including George C. Marshall and Dwight D. Eisenhower, were featured in newsreels flying in Cubs. Special L-4 military variants were used for training and reconnaissance.

The J-3 Cub donated by the now-defunct Piper Aircraft is a 1946 single-engine, tandem-cockpit craft that ran on a 65-horsepower Continental engine. It is painted in trademark Cub Yellow, selected for visibility. At 22 feet 7 inches in length and 35 feet 2.5 inches in width, it had to be disassembled when it first arrived at the museum so that it could be conveyed to the second floor. The wings were too wide to fit in the museum’s freight elevator, so they were crated and carried up by workmen via the escalator. For 50 years, the J-3 has been on display in the Hall of Industry and Technology and remains one of the premier artifacts of The State Museum of Pennsylvania.


Kyle R. Weaver is the editor of Pennsylvania Heritage.