TWA, On The Cutting Edge of Design

August 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

At our Pop-Up show this past weekend, I had the pleasure of flipping the pile for a woman who was full of stories. As we worked our way through the small pile, we came across a poster for TWA, which led us to a discussion about the TWA Terminal at JFK Airport. I had never seen pictures of it, but the client I was working with assured me that it was worth seeing. She was right.

As I began reseraching the terminal and the history of TWA’s travel posters, I was intrigued by the ways in which aviation and travel posters have changed over the years.

Tychon, Semaine d’Aviation de Lyon, 1910

At the start of the 20th century when the airplane was a novel technology, most travel posters were focused on the planes themselves. It was the novelty of the technology, and the broad implications that the power of flight held both for speedy travel and military potential, that were glorified in these early posters. As aviation technology became more familiar and the flights became longer, it became increasingly important for posters to emphasize the comfort level of the planes.

Advertising the “safest and fastest plane”

Klein, TWA Paris, 1965

Between the 1930’s and the 1960’s, travel posters began to focus more on destinations, rather than the planes themselves.  This genre of destination poster saw its peak during the 1960’s, at the height of the Jet Age, and it was during this decade that architect Eero Sarrinen designed the famous TWA Terminal at JFK.

According to the architect, the curvilinear structure was meant to be an “icon of both modern air travel and modern design,” and an abstract symbol of flight. Sarrinen wanted it to be “a building in which the architecture itself would express the drama and specialness and excitement of travel,” and the curved shapes were meant to “emphasize an upward-soaring quality of line.”

Ezra Stoller, TWA Terminal at Idlewild (now JFK) 1962

So while the TWA posters of the 1960’s focused on destinations far and wide, the company chose to have the terminal glorify and honor the flight itself. Together they make a perfect pair, both destination and transportation.

Klein, TWA New York, 1965

TWA Terminal 1962

The terminal was closed in 2001 after American Airlines bought out TWA, but has recently been restored to its former glory – complete with orange carpets!

Restored TWA Terminal

The glamour of the Jet Age may have passed, but Saarinen’s beautiful building lives on in memory of an age when boarding a plane was an event and advertisements for TWA were pure works of art.

Klein, TWA San Francisco

Written by Emily Jackson, Media Intern Vintage European Posters

Edited by Elizabeth Norris, Owner Vintage European Posters

Established 1997, Member IVPDA

2201 Fourth Street

Berkeley, CA 94710

510 843 2201


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