The History of Aviation in Posters, Brochures, Badges and Ticket Stubs
Instead of ending up in the trash, aviation ephemera from the last 100 years turn out to be treasure.
1) Pan American Airways baggage label, c. 1937; 2) French airplane brochure, c. 1910; 3) Coloring book, 1930; 4) Airline brochure, 1941; 5) Pan Am foreign currency converter, 1957; 6) Program from the 1910 Belmont Park air meet; 7) Entrance badge, Wright Military Flyer trials, 1909; 8) 1945 comic; 9) West Coast Air Transport timetable, c. 1928; 10) Menu from a 1927 dinner in Charles Lindbergh’s honor; 11) Coloring book, early 1960s; 12) Aircraft recognition dial, 1942;
Slipped between the pages of diaries and journals, glued into scrapbooks, and stuffed into envelopes, we’ve found things that were never meant to last. Most people hang on to bits of paper that they didn’t mean to save forever: a ticket stub from a concert, a greeting card, a tour brochure.
Within the 20,000 cubic feet of archival materials at the National Air and Space Museum Archives are personal and professional papers, corporate and organizational records, 20,000 motion pictures, two million technical drawings, and three million photographic images. But the Archives is also home to ephemera—banquet menus, airline baggage labels, company brochures—that tell another kind of aviation and spaceflight history. These items bring the past alive in a more intimate way than do the more formal reports and records.
In one of our air racing collections, for example, I found a bright red slip of paper advertising a “Pilot’s Delight Sundae” as a promotion for the 1930 National Air Races: For 25 cents, you could get crushed strawberry and pineapple, a chocolate cookie, and two flavors of ice cream. I was immediately transported to a lunch counter in Chicago on a hot summer afternoon, enjoying a treat while thinking about the thrill of heading out to the airfield to see the action. Now all I need to find is a ticket, a program, and a time machine, and I’m ready to go…
Melissa A.N. Keiser is the Image Archivist for the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. She started working at the Museum in 1985, and is co-author of the book The Legacy of Flight: Images from the Archives of he Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.