Once upon a time there was a “golden age” of air travel, when passengers wore suits and dresses to fly and airlines created colorful posters to tempt those well-dressed customers to exotic destinations like…Minnesota.
But not just Minnesota. Airlines used posters to tout the appeal of destinations all over the world—and to persuade potential customers that their carriers were the best way to get there.
This was in the days when most people planning a trip had to visit a travel agent. Perhaps an eye-catching poster, one featuring the latest airliner soaring over a scenic vista, would be just the thing to seal the deal.
In his book The Art of the Airways, Geza Szurovy traces the airline poster back to 1914, when the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line in Florida issued one to promote its “fast passenger and express service.” Early airline posters touted not just the novelty of flight, but also its safety. Once air travel became less novel after World War II, the posters stressed the destination, with the airplanes often reduced to a tiny image streaking across the top. Many of the artists who did these works have retreated into anonymity but some—like David Klein, who created the TWA San Francisco poster on the opposite page—became known for their poster work.
Seeing images like these may make you feel nostalgic for a time when airline travel seemed a little magical. The posters may also make you wistfully contemplate airlines that have vanished, like bird species gone extinct. What remains is the allure of travel—no matter what you’re wearing.
this article first appeared in AVIATION HISTORY magazine