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Chapter 89 : A History of Travel Posters

Poster art, in addition to being a true art form of its kind, has always been a powerful form of visual communication. Travel posters began at the turn of the 20th century as a vehicle for advertising the tourism industry. Colonial countries such as Great Britain, France and the Netherlands by organizing colonial exhibitions and creating new and exotic landscapes of their colonies, with bright and bold colors and causing a sense of adventure and exploration, prompted the observer to book trips and purchase tickets to their major cities by train, boat, Zeppelin or plane. Later, people wanted to visit these exotic places, and the posters started to advertise the real thing.  During the late 1800s until about 1950, posters, print ads, and brochures were the most common way for travel companies and agencies to reach their customers.

With the technological advances in transportation of the early 20th century, that reduced the cost of travel,  railroads, ocean liners and airplanes, promoted the idea of pleasurable and luxurious travel, offering people the freedom to explore the world. This sparked the “Golden Age of Travel” which lasted until the outbreak of World War II. 

The tourism and hospitality industry including hotels, airlines, railroads and entertainment parks used travel posters to graphically create an image of themselves to the public. Many Graphic designers used the recently developed  lithographic printing process to create stunning works of art that ranged in style from art nouveau to mid-century modern. 

By the early 1900s, Hugo d’Alesi (France), Emile Cardinaux (Switzerland) and Adolfo Hohenstein (Italy)  combined stylised images with bold typography that were quite effective medium to inspire travelers to explore the world, and their posters were prominently displayed on kiosks,  in train stations , burgeoning travel agencies, docks, depots, and later at airports of Europe and America to create demand.  By the 1920s, A. M. Cassandre, his pupil Fix-Masseau, Tom Purvis, Frank Newbould and other artists transformed the travel poster from illustration to real artwork. 

The graphic designers   not only created the imagery strong and appealing to promote a safe and magical experience,  but also contributed to educate the public with the grammar of visual communication. Some used images of children to show the wonderment of travel through their  adventurous eyes, as illustrated in a 1964 poster for Grace Line Ocean Liners.  Others included  mythical figures to represent adventure,  excitement or safety, and some used native women in their national costumes, or various symbols or stylized monuments. 


Shipyards in Germany, Italy and France had all eclipsed other competitors tonnage and their ships. RMS Queen Mary was completed by August 1934 and in 1935, the gigantic ocean liner, S.S. Normandie, was launched.  They, Normandie in particular,  inaugurated a new era in transatlantic travel. Normandie set new standards of luxury, speed, steadiness, comfort and safety, and  was the largest liner afloat -- indeed  different in almost every respect. It was a new kind of ocean liner which was considered the epitome of luxurious travel. The graphic designers of Normandie's  posters were able to project this colossal power and strength in  their posters.   


On August 11, 1938 the first nonstop transAtlantic commercial flight by a land-based aircraft, a four-engine Focke-Wulf Fw 200 “Condor” developed by a German manufacturer and flown by Lufthansa  landed at Floyd Bennett Field, now a park in Brooklyn, after taking off about 25 hours earlier from Berlin on a 3,728-mile flight.The era of intercontinental air travel had started.

Other airlines such as the British Imperial Airways and Pan American Airways began working toward experimental transatlantic flights only in 1936, partly because the British were unwilling to grant landing rights for American air carriers until then. Both airlines decided to use flying boats because concrete runways were rare at coastal airports on the Atlantic, and also because landplanes capable of flying such distances without refueling simply did not exist at the time. 

 On December 9, 1937, Pan American invited bids from eight U.S. airplane manufacturers to build a 100-seat long-range airliner. Boeing, which won the competition, offered its legendary B-314 flying boat. Pan American inaugurated the world's first transatlantic passenger service on June 28, 1939, between New York and Marseilles, France, and on July 8 between New York and Southampton. 

By the beginning of World War II, Pan American, with its considerable experience in Pacific and South American operations with the famous Clipper service, dominated the transatlantic routes. The airline offered regular flights with its seaplanes from La Guardia airport in New York City to Lisbon in Portugal, which was the most common entry point into Europe at the time.

German Zeppelin, Hamburg -Amerika Linie

Experience the Orient (Erleben Sie Den Orient Mit) - Lufthansa German Airlines, Hans Rott

The competition among airlines created a surge in travel posters, and they could be found everywhere.  As Henry Miller once said, “One’s destination is never a place, but rather a new way of seeing things.” However, not all airlines had a  artistic sensibility to understand this dictum, and their  posters were a distasteful collection of tacky images in flashy colours with awful typography crowded with information. On the other hand, some other airlines, like Sabena of Belgium, had always created posters that in that have stood the test of time and contributed to aesthetics of visual communication. 

The very first commercial air flight took off on January 1st of 1914 from St. Petersburg, Florida to Tampa, Florida. By the 1920’s, Charles Lindbergh reached iconic celebrity status with his dream of crossing the Atlantic.  His transatlantic trip in 1927 proved to the world that air travel was a quick and safe option, opening new parts of the world to vacation exploration. The most renowned artists of the time were commissioned, their artwork and images reflecting the styles of the Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Impressionist, Cubist and Modern eras. 

One of the most prolific and sought-after travel poster artists is A. M. Cassandre (aka Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron). Born in the Ukraine, Cassandre studied art in Paris at the famed Ecole des Beaux-Arts and Academie Julian, and was greatly inspired by Bauhaus, cubism, and surrealism. While he started work at a Parisian print house producing posters, he later set up his own advertising agency called Alliance Graphique. Cassandre’s poster of a large commercial steamship titled “L’Atlantique” from 1931 has one of the highest records set for a travel poster at auction at Christie’s in June of 2014, hammering down at 30,000 British Pounds, roughly $50,880 in U.S. Dollars. 

In the 1950s and ’60s, when commercial air travel was still considered glamorous, Trans World Airlines (TWA) was one of the world’s premier passenger carriers.  In 1930, TWA merged with Western Air Express to form Transcontinental and Western Air, Inc. (TWA). The airline took advantage of its association with Lindbergh in its advertising, which gave them prestige in the eyes of the public, who were wild about him. In 1950, to reflect TWA’s expanding international service, Howard Hughes, who had acquired a majority share of  TWA in 1939, changed the name from Transcontinental and Western Air to Trans World Airlines, preserving the acronym.

Some of the best TWA posters from the 1950s and ‘60s were created by artist David Klein (1918 – 2005). Already a successful illustrator known in the late 1940s and early 1950s for his Broadway show window cards and posters, Klein’s award-winning abstract drawings for TWA came to represent the jet age. Klein won many awards for his TWA work. In 1957, his TWA poster of New York City became a part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Klein won many excellence awards for his great design work for TWA from the Society of Illustrators.

David Klein. New York Fly TWA. 1956. MOMA

Braniff International Airways was an innovative American airline that in 1960s advertised that it is creating ...
the most beautiful airline in the world. We hired Emilio Pucci to design our uniforms. Our hostesses wear reversible coats of almond green and apricot, space helmets to keep out the rain, red spacesuits and sometimes something a little more comfortable... We have blue planes, orange planes, yellow planes...
The company recruited Mary Wells a young designer who proposed a pop-hued, psychedelic scheme for Braniff. She and her team brought in Italian designer Emilio Pucci to design the staff uniforms (he even created plastic “space bubbles” to protect their hairdos) and commissioned pop designer Alexander Girard to paint the fuselage of the planes in bright, candy-colored patterns. Braniff’s tagline was, “the end of the plain plane!” “Suddenly, Braniff was seen as a modern, chic company that would make flying fun.”   Braniff 's posters captured its innovative vision. 

Left: “Monte Carlo Flowers” poster by Jean Gabriel Domergue, 1950;
Right: “Oostende to Dover” poster by Marfurt, 1931,

“Summer in Switzerland”, 1921

Left: "Middelkerke Belgium Bains Gratuits" by Baillie, 1923;
Right: "Fly TWA to New York," unknown artist, c. 1955,

‘Orient Calls,’ Mune Satomi, 1936

‘Palestine Line,’ T. Trepkowski, 1935

 David Klein, Egypt
Klein’s early career was as a painter and illustrator before becoming a part of the California Watercolor Society in the 30s. His vintage travel posters emanate the style so closely associated with the group – bold colours and thick brushstrokes drawn onto paper with no pre-planning.

‘Visit Palestine,’ Franz Krausz, ca. 1930s

The Hamburg-America Line, by Albert Fuss  ca. 1930s.

‘Motoring in Germany,’ Ludwig Hohlwein, 

"Annecy Sa Plage" Robert Falcucci - 1935
"Veneux Fontainebleau" Prieur - 1930

TWA Spain 

‘Klosters. Graubnden, Schweiz,’ J. C. Müller,

‘Varmland, Sweden. An unspoiled mecca for tourists,’ Beckman, 1936

Cote d'Azur Jean-Gabriel Domergue

L'Ete sur la Cote d'azur Roger Broders

Les Sables d'Olonne Walter Thor

‘Alaska via Canadian Pacific, Taku Glacier,’ Greenwood

Greyhound's Los Angeles  Disneyland Poster.  ca. 1960s

 Southern Pacific's California Beaches poster, by Maurice Logan, ca. 1920s

United Air Lines' Southern California poster, by Stan Galli, ca. 1955

 Pacific Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, California

United Air Lines San Francisco, Cable Car Posters by Stan Galli

California Carmel by the Sea

Lake tahoe california

San Diego, California - Old Town 
California Sailboat Boat Sport Travel

Sunny California - Surf's Up


Key West Florida Travel Poster by Kerne Erickson

Grand Canyon National Park

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