Living the Dream
- Major: History
- Class Of: 2017
“ What I’ve learned at the Petersen Automotive museum and what I learned at Cal Poly Pomona is, if you’re passionate about something, don’t hesitate to go for it. ”
Evel Knievel and museum archivists don’t often cross paths.
Not in the case of Andrew Kopp.
The first item Kopp (’17, history) archived after graduating from Cal Poly Pomona in 2017 was a photo of the daredevil’s famous 1974 attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon.
Confirmation that Kopp had landed his dream job settled in when he peered through the magnifier at his first strip of film, but he knew he was in the right place the minute he walked into the vault of the Petersen Automotive Museum.
“It just took my breath away, I was floored,” Kopp, 30, said. “To see so many pieces of automotive history just lined up in front of me, I knew that I needed this job. I knew that I wanted to tell the story of these cars, the story of automotive history.”
Housing some of the most famous automobiles of the last 120 years, the Petersen Museum displays more than 150 vehicles in its 25 galleries. The 60,000 square-foot museum vault contains some of the most rare vehicles from around the world, including hypercars, turn-of-the-twentieth-century cars, head-of-state cars and supercars.
As the museum’s archival and metadata technician, Kopp has archived more than 800,000 of the 20 million images from Robert Petersen’s famous publications, including Hot Rod Magazine, Motor Trend and Rod & Custom.
When Kopp arrived at Cal Poly Pomona after stints at community college and in the working world, his emphasis was history. His original aspiration was to teach it, not piece it together, an inspiration sparked by his father’s career as an elementary school teacher.
Kopp discovered the archival industry during an internship at the March Field Air Museum in Riverside. His ensuing work as a student at the W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Library cemented his love for the archival process. Kopp analogized a completed collection to a puzzle constructed of previously scattered historical materials that tell a story once they’re pieced together.
Kopp was part of a student team that archived a collection of works by Gladys Brown, a noted equine artist and authority on Arabian horses. He saw the process through from start to finish, designing a portion of the resulting exhibit and even pulling together some information for Brown’s husband, Cecil Edwards.
When he discovered his passion for archival work halfway through the teaching credential program, Kopp changed tracks to get a history degree.
Kopp has since transitioned from horses to horse power.
“The opportunities I had in school are the reason why I got the opportunity (at the Petersen Automotive Museum),” Kopp said. “I really found myself at Cal Poly Pomona. When I got to process a collection from start to finish at the Arabian Horse Library, all of that research and preservation really propelled my career and what I wanted to do.”
From famous vehicles that appeared in movies — the Batmobile, Lightning McQueen and the DeLorean from Back to the Future, to name a few — to cars dating back as far as 1886 to some of the most innovative hot rods ever assembled, Kopp has the opportunity to do the work that he loves while soaking in an extensive collection at the Petersen.
When he isn’t investigating the types of cars, drivers and settings on display in Petersen’s collection of images, he often joins the walking tours of the museum to soak in even more details of automotive history.
“What I’ve learned at the Petersen Automotive museum and what I learned at Cal Poly Pomona is, if you’re passionate about something, don’t hesitate to go for it,” Kopp said. “Cal Poly Pomona isn’t just an agricultural school or an engineering school. CPP has amazing history professors that drove home how important history is and really made me feel passionate about my degree.”