October 12, 1962: Duluth celebrates “Robert Gilruth Day”

This day in Duluth in 1962 was declared “Robert Gilruth Day” to honor its native son, who had become a pioneer in manned space flight. According to biographer David Ouse, In 1936 Gilruth went to work as a flight research engineer for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the predecessor of NASA. When NASA was established in 1958, Russia had jumped ahead of the U.S. in space, and Gilruth was named head of the team created to plan for sending a man into space. In 1961, he was appointed head of the new Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas, and in 1962, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration by President Kennedy. In Duluth he visited his childhood home at 701 N. 20th Avenue East. By 1962 it had become the home of the Dostal family, whose oldest son Bob, 13, had written a “fond letter” to Gilruth prior to his visit to the Zenith City. In his old home Gilruth remembered fondly spending time in the house’s basement, where he said he “used to do much of my work. I spent a great deal of time down there.” He later addressed a crowd at his alma mater, Central High School, where he told the audience (including some of his mates from the class of 1931) “I have received many honors, but I have never felt quite as humble as I do at this moment.” Learn more about Gilruth in Ouse’s biography of him, here.

Duluth native Robert Gilruth, pioneer of manned space flight, year unknown. (Image: NASA.)