Travel Posters and the Evolution of Flight
June 13, 2011 § 1 Comment
Early Commercial Air Travel
In today’s fast-paced world, we think nothing of scheduling a morning meeting 500 miles away with the intention of being home in time for supper. We take fast, cheap air travel for granted. It wasn’t always like this. In fact, a mere 75 years ago, the first passenger flights from San Francisco to Hong Kong took 3 days and cost $950 one way — the equivalent of $14,000 in today’s dollars.
Early long distance flights in the late 20’s and early 30’s were solely mail routes. In the U.S., Pan Am delivered the international mail and established routes, hubs, airports, pilots — creating the infrastructure upon which commercial aviation would later grow. Pan Am’s leader, Juan Trippe, thought he could increase profits by transporting a few passengers along with the mail and soon the Pan Am Clippers, also known as ‘flying boats,’ established regular passenger routes across the Pacific. This revolutionized travel: trips which had previously taken one month by ship, were accomplished by plane in a couple of days.
But travel wasn’t glamorous yet. A flight from Paris to New York was a twenty hour trip with two stops to refuel. The Clippers were twin engine planes and they could carry only 20 passengers. Because of this, travel posters in this time period suggest a sense of adventure — destinations were exotic, and the traveler was a pioneer.
Pan Am pressed on, and in 1942 they were the first airline to operate a commercial route circumnavigating the globe with stops ineight cities. Most commercial development came to a halt during WWII, as many of the big planes were pressed into service of the war. Their sole purpose was to carry military brass, soldiers, mail, supplies and munitions overseas. In fact, travel for leisure was discouraged as a waste of resources during wartime.
Aviation was a huge part of WWII, both for transport and for combat. Squadrons of fighter jets helped win the war, but they also successfully trained pilots, advanced aviation technology and cemented routes which could be built on in the postwar period.
The Postwar Period
After World War II, TWA, United, Pan Am and American, battled to dominate transatlantic and transcontinental flights. Technological and marketing advances such as pressurized cabins (1940), the invention of “Ocean Liners for the Skies” aka Coach Class (1944) and Jet Engines (1958) made travel more comfortable, more affordable and faster. Finally, the world was open to everyone. In 1946, TWA joined Pan Am as a provider of international service with flights to Cairo, and soon after, flights to Bombay and Ceylon. Meanwhile TWA and United expanded their intercontinental routes. In 1946, the trip from coast to coast took 10 hours, with one stop to refuel in Nebraska. In 1953 TWA offered the first non-stop service from NY to California.
The travel posters from this time period reflect the sheer joy of travel and they were incredibly effective. Travel by air caught on. In 1958 more than 1 million passengers flew to Europe – for the first time overtaking the number who ‘crossed the pond’ by ocean line. By 1968, Transatlantic air travel had increased to six million passengers. The chance to see the world, a luxury once only available to the elite, was now accessible to the masses in the post war period.
Airlines and boards of tourism poured money into their ad campaigns, as they tried to capture a slice of the tourist’s heart and therefore their dollars. Artists such as Guy Georget and Jean Carlu for Air France, (Air France French Riviera photo) David Klein for TWA (Las Vegas photo) and Stan Galli for United produced seductive images of faraway places to entice the viewer to choose their next holiday. Most of the posters were discarded and as a result,those that survived are highly sought after by collectors today.
The Art of the Airways by Geza Szurovy (2002) MBI Publishing
Air France Posters Making the World Dream by Louis-Jean Calvet & Philippe Thibault (2006) pub Le Cherche Midi
This is a reprint from an article published in Los Angeles Modernism Show‘s catalogue of April 3o – May 1, 2011