“Space — the final frontier….”
The Star Trek fandom can easily recite the rest of this iconic quote from the original Star Trek series and Star Trek: The Next Generation. What many local Trekkies may not realize is that the Lebanon area has a connection to the original series — the late Walter Matthews “Matt” Jeffries designed the studio model of the Starship Enterprise, a.k.a. U.S.S. Enterprise.
According to IMDb (the online database of information related to films, television programs, home videos, video games, and streaming content online), Jefferies and his two younger brothers, Phil and John, “worked together as a design team on the conceptual space vehicles” for Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek pilot. “Matt was the production designer for the series pilot,” IMDb states. “The brothers were all designers and art directors in the Hollywood entertainment industry.”
Matt Jeffries was born in Lebanon in 1921. According to his IMDb mini-bio, he became obsessed with flight at an early age. Biographical information at Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio, indicates that he became an avid builder of model aircraft after his family moved to Richmond, Virginia, when his father became chief engineer at a power plant there.
During World War II, he was a B-17 co-pilot in Europe and Africa; for his service he received the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He became an illustrator at the Library of Congress in 1949. Jeffries’ obituary in the July 24, 2003, edition of Variety indicates that he became a freelance aviation illustrator in 1953.
According to the obituary, four years later, he segued to become a set designer at Warner Bros. and went on to become an art director. IMDb indicates “in the 1960s is when he made his mark (on Hollywood). In 1964, Gene Roddenberry approached Matt to design the ship for a new TV series: Star Trek. The final design of the original Starship Enterprise became the template for nearly all of the Federation ships featured in Star Trek ever since.”
Jeffries remained as art director for Star Trek’s three-season run. It aired from September 1966 until June 1969. He was listed on the show’s credits at Walter M. Jeffries. Star Trek fans may recall hearing a mention of a Jeffries Tube (electrical conduit). An article on StarTrek.com explains that the phrase honors Jeffries.
“Jefferies had such a big hand in defining the look of Star Trek that, as a gag among the production staff, the access crawlway where Scotty was often seen fixing the ship was referred to off-screen as the ‘Jeffries Tube’. By Star Trek: The Next Generation, however, ‘Jefferies Tube’ was spoken in dialog, thus making the term ‘canon.’ In the Enterprise episode ‘First Flight’, the leader of an engineering team designing early warp engines was named ‘Captain Jefferies’ in homage to the man who played such a huge role in defining the Star Trek universe.”
Jeffries had an extensive aviation history collection. That collection of aviation artifacts, the Walter Matthews Jefferies Aviation Collection, is now housed at the Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio. It was donated to by Walter Matthews Jefferies and his wife, Mary Ann, in November 2003. Mrs. Jefferies also donated a large addition to the collection in June 2016.
The collection consists of more than 15,000 photographs and over 1,100 books, pamphlets, and journals. The bulk of the photographs pertain to aviation from the 1930s to the ’60s. Most of the photographs document military aircraft produced by a variety of aircraft manufacturers. However, the collection also contains a significant number of photographs taken by movie studios during the filming of aviation-themed movies.
Lisa Rickey, collections manager and archivist at Wright State University, said one of the highlights of the collection are several original 35mm color slides depicting scenes on the set of Star Trek.
Although Star Trek is what Jeffries is most known for, he worked on a number of other TV shows including Mission: Impossible, Riptide, Love American Style, Little House on the Prairie, and Dallas.
The studio model of Jeffries’ Enterprise is in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. It was donated by Paramount Studios to the museum in 1974. A two-year conservation effort by Smithsonian staff was completed in 2016, and it was placed on display in a climate-controlled case in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall.
A May 2016 article in Smithsonian Magazine indicates that the goal of the project was to restore the model as much as possible to its condition in August 1967, the last time it was modified for broadcast. A Smithsonian Channel special “Building Star Trek” focused on the restoration effort as well as the effort at the EMP Museum in Seattle, Washington, to rebuild a model of the Enterprise bridge from the show using authentic props and set items.
If you’re traveling to D.C. and hope to get a glimpse of the U.S.S. Enterprise, you may be disappointed. It was temporarily removed from display in late 2019 due to a building renovation. In a June 30 email Amy Stamm, head of Social and Editorial Content at the National Air and Space Museum, said the Enterprise studio model is expected to be back on display at the end of next year.
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