Revenge of the Nerds

How Aerospace Geeks Taught Southern California to Have Fun

We all know the image of the aerospace engineer. Short-sleeved white shirt, skinny dark tie, crew cut, horn-rimmed glasses, pocket protector. Think Michael Douglas in Falling Down, the 1993 movie that followed Douglas’s character, a laid-off aerospace engineer, on a violent spree across Los Angeles.

There is some truth to the image. A new archive on the history of Southern California aerospace, a collaboration between USC and the Huntington Library, has abundant photos confirming the stereotype: earnest young engineers of the 1940s and ’50s bent over drafting tables in full nerd …