Airline Expansion and Innovation (1927 - 1941)

Ships of the Air

Pan American was the first airline to use nautical terms. Words like "captain" and "stewards" attracted customers used to luxury ship travel.



"There is still a newness about air travel, and, though statistics demonstrate its safety, the psychological effect of having a girl on board is enormous."
-Comment about the addition of stewardesses from an airline magazine, 1935

Early Pilot and Flight Attendant Uniforms

Boeing S-307 Stratoliner Pilots
National Air and Space Museum Archives

By the early 1930s, airlines were introducing distinctive uniforms for their employees, and women were entering the ranks of flight attendants.

Pilots were given military-style uniforms to reflect their status. Pan American emulated luxurious ocean liner service by calling its flying boats "Clippers" and its pilots "Captains," and attiring its crews in naval-style uniforms with white hats and navy-blue, double-breasted jackets and rank insignia on the sleeve cuffs. Other airlines followed suit. Many of these customs continue today.

While Pan Am and other airlines employed men as stewards, Boeing Air Transport introduced the first female stewards.

Ellen Church
National Air and Space Museum Archives

The First Stewardess

A nurse from Iowa, Ellen Church wanted to become an airline pilot but realized that was not possible for a woman in her day. So in 1930, she approached Steve Simpson at Boeing Air Transport with the novel idea of placing nurses aboard airliners. She convinced him that the presence of women nurses would help relieve the traveling public's fear of flying. Church developed the job description and training program for the first stewardesses.

Church first flew as a stewardess between Oakland and Chicago. She had only served for 18 months when an automobile accident grounded her. After her recovery, she completed her college degree and returned to nursing.

Boeing 80A Air Transport Crew
National Air and Space Museum Archives

United Air Lines' "Original Eight" female flight attendants. Boeing Air Transport (later United) district manager Steve Stimpson introduced the first stewardesses to provide better customer service along B.A.T.'s San Francisco-Chicago route. He even designed the first stewardess uniform.

Stewardess
Transcontinental and Western Air, 1935
Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum
Chewing Gum Dispenser, 1938
Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum
The First Stewardess Uniform, Boeing Air Transport, 1930 (replica)
Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum
T.W.A. Overnight Flight Bag, 1934
Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum
American Airlines Overnight Flight Bag, 1935
Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum
Stewardess Key, American Airlines
Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum

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