National Air and Space Museum
When the Going Was Good
The Golden Age of Commercial Air Travel
aviation expanded significantly during the 1930s, as new aircraft designs were introduced
and new air routes circled the globe. The public regarded air travel as exciting and
glamorous; the airlines worked hard to add safety, reliability, and comfort to the public
perception. The images and artifacts of that time remind us that air travel was once much
more than just a way to go from place to place.
Airborne drawing rooms, meals served on real china at real tables, and breakfast in bed are long-gone from airline travel. Competing with the railroads and passenger liners, airlines attracted passengers with the sort of comfortable, elegant appointments that today's air travelers can only dream of.
Breakfast in bed aboard a United Airlines Douglas DST (Douglas Sleeper Transport), circa 1936. The DST was soon modified to operate as a day plane and was renamed the DC-3.
United Airlines photograph
12 KB JPEG; NASM 2A-30349
spacious compartments of the Boeing 307 Stratoliner are pictured in this artist's
conception taken from a 1940 TWA brochure.
|A TWA flight attendant
checks out a friendly
game of cards on a Boeing 307, 1940.
Trans World Airlines brochure
24 KB JPEG; W1998AR0002
The Pan American Clippers
Nothing caught the imagination of the American public quite like the giant Pan American Airways Clippers. Luxuriously appointed, individually named flying boats like the Martin M-130 China Clipper and the Boeing 314 Yankee Clipper crossed the world's oceans. The Pacific route featured stopovers in Hawaii and at bases built by Pan American on Midway Island, Wake Island, and on Guam.
The Pan American clippers were named after the far-ranging sailing ships of the 19th century. PAA aircrew wore naval-style uniforms and bore naval ranks; ship's bells rang the hours on Pan American clippers.
Pan American Airways brochure, 1940
12 KB JPEG: SI 89-1216 CT
The Martin M-130 inaugurated transpacific commercial air service on November 22, 1935, when the China Clipper, commanded by Capt. Edwin C. Musick, took off from San Francisco for Manila in the Philippines, carrying air mail. The first passenger flights followed in October 1936.
Pan American Airways photograph
16 KB JPEG; SI 77-5799
The dining room of Pan American's Yankee Clipper, a Boeing 314 flying boat, which flew Pan Am's first transatlantic passenger flight in June 1939. The photograph's caption states that the dining tables are made of black walnut, the upholstery features a "spirited blue pattern," and the walls are silvery-beige.
Pan American Airways photograph
15 KB JPEG; SI 75-12105
Airline brochures and timetables helped to project an image of elegance and glamour. The lure of exotic ports of call may have attracted vacationers, but the promise of speed and reliability was just as important to an expanding sector of airline passengers - the business traveler.
|Australian National Airways brochure, circa 1945.
26 KB JPEG; NASM 2A-31136
United Air Lines timetable, circa
Originals of the artifacts pictured on this site are held in the collections of the National Air and Space Museum Archives. Copyright is held by the originating airlines: Sabena Belgian World Airlines, United Airlines Inc., Trans World Airlines Inc., and Pan American World Airways, Inc. Società Aerea Mediterranea and Australian National Airways are no longer in operation.
Previous exhibits: Army Green to Air Force
in the Files
September 14, 1998
© 1998 National Air and Space Museum