The King of Cool: Steve McQueen in the Archives

Today’s post is by Jason Atkinson, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives in College Park, MD.

It is not every day you open a box full of government records and find an original signed and embossed letter from a major movie star. However, such was the case when I was processing records from the National Highway Safety Bureau (NHSB). Steve McQueen, a movie star known for the motorcycle chase scene and jump in The Great Escape (with the aid of a stunt man), and the legendary car chase through the hills of San Francisco in Bullitt, was not someone I would have associated with traffic safety advocacy. Nevertheless, away from the screen he was an avid motorcycle enthusiast, off-road racer, and motorcycle collector who was involved with the American Motorcycle Association. This gave him an interest in promoting motorcycling and motorcycle safety. On April 19, 1967, McQueen wrote to Dr. William Haddon, Jr., Director of the National Highway Safety Bureau, expressing a desire to take part in a federal motorcycle safety program.

Letter from Steve McQueen to Dr. William Haddon, Jr., April 19, 1967.

Steve McQueen Letter 2
Letter from Steve McQueen to Dr. William Haddon, Jr., April 19, 1967.

The NHSB did not want to enter into an agreement with someone without first checking up on him. The result was a memorandum describing McQueen in a manner that might have shocked his fans. How many would have thought that the King of Cool was living a “quiet and orderly life”?

Memorandum from Lowell K. Bridwell to William Haddon, May 24, 1967.
Memorandum from Lowell K. Bridwell to William Haddon, May 24, 1967.

On July 21, 1967, Director Haddon replied to Mr. McQueen.

Letter from William Haddon, Jr. to Mr. Steve McQueen, July 21, 1967.

Steve McQueen Letter 5
Letter from William Haddon, Jr., M. D. to Mr. Steve McQueen, July 21, 1967.

Later that year there was additional correspondence about the possibility of McQueen working with the NHSB to create a motorcycle safety film. Unfortunately, the file does not make it clear if such a film was ever produced.

The documents above are from the folder: 1970 PR [Public Relations] 9-3 Individuals: McQueen, Steve. Solar Productions, 1967. (NAID 106757090), in the Series: Subject Files, 1970-1972 (NAID 84564937). Department of Transportation. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Office of the Administrator. Office of the Executive Secretary. (12/31/1970 – 1984). Record Group 416: Records of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1966 – 2007.


If he were alive today, Terrance “Steve” McQueen would be celebrating his 89th birthday on March 24. You can view his Marine Corps Official Military Personnel File from the National Archives at St. Louis in its entirety here on the National Archives Catalog!

2 thoughts on “The King of Cool: Steve McQueen in the Archives

  1. This was great information to know. I don’t understand why all states don’t have a helmet law. It’s nice to hear about celebrities that do good for the greater good of many.

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