Airline Visual Identity 1945 - 1975

Victor Vasarely, “Air France – Amérique du Sud” (1948), stone lithograph (all images courtesy Callisto Publishers)

From the end of World War II to the 1970s, airline travel experienced a revolution in extended routes and better aircrafts. The corporate design evolved alongside, and in Airline Visual Identity: 1945–1975 by Matthias C. Hühne, a new book out from Callisto Publishers, that era of advertising is celebrated with all its promised adventure and glamor.

Cover of ‘Airline Visual Identity: 1945-1975 ‘

Airline Visual Identity is quite a hefty tome, weighing in at about 14 pounds, and isn’t cheap (currently going for $360 on Amazon). Yet it’s likely the most lovingly printed and comprehensive books on airline posters available, with work by design icons like Saul Bass, Massimo Vignelli, and Mary Wells Lawrence alongside anonymous creators. They were all illustrating the romance of distant travel promised by flight, and emphasizing the beauty and power of the advanced airplanes alongside the people and places connected by their routes. The pre-World War II era had its share of experimental design, such as avant-garde artist László Moholy-Nagy working for Imperial Airways, but it really took off in the mid-century, when aircraft technology, which was sped along by the military, was fully adapted for civilian use. The era was also a high point for sleek corporate design, with TWA, for example, commissioning prestigious architect Eero Saarinen for its JFK terminal.

“It was a rebirth for civil aviation, which had been all but suspended during the war,” Hühne writes in an introduction. “The Jet Age began in the late 1950s, and by the mid­-1970s, all major leaps in air travel innovation had been completed — in terms of the size and comfort of air­ craft, as represented by the Boeing 747, in terms of speed, embodied by the supersonic Concorde, and in terms of the availability of destinations.”

Below are some selections from the over 400 pages of Airline Visual Identity, where each poster tells a story about both the airline and the personal opportunities for exploration by its passengers.

Roger Excoffon, “Air France” (1964), offset photolithograph

Bernhard Villemot, with art direction by Jean Carlu, “Air France – India” (1956), lithograph

Walter Bomar, “American Airlines – Jet Powered Electra Flagships” (1959), lithograph

Hans Rott, “Lufthansa” (1960), lithograph

Anonymous, “United Air Lines – New Orleans” (1962), silkscreen

David Klein, “TWA – St. Louis” (1965), lithograph

Anonymous, “American Airlines – Niagara Falls” (1968), offset photolithograph

Frank Wootton, “BOAC – USA” (1950), silkscreen

Herbert Danska, “American Airlines – 707 Jet Flagships” (1960), lithograph

Aaron Fine, “Pan Am – Jet Clipper” (1958), silkscreen

Joseph Charles Parker and Martin D. Glanzman, “American Airlines – Texas” (1953), silkscreen

Raymond Savignac, with art direction by Jean Carlu, “Air France – Le Plus Longe Réseau du Monde” (1956), lithograph

David Klein, “TWA – California” (1967), lithograph

Abram Games, “Far Better Travel by BOAC” (1950), silkscreen

Airline Visual Identity: 1945-1975 by Matthias C. Hühne is out with Callisto Publishers.

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...

One reply on “The Promise of Glamor and Adventure in Mid-Century Airline Advertising”

  1. how sad how this has changed for most of us. what was once a fun event has become another necessary trial on a treadmill whose speed is faster than is best for us.

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