The Newberry

Mapping Movement

Curtiss Air Line Souvenir Map, 1929

Referenced by Essay: 

Airlines have used maps to promote their services since the beginning of commercial aviation in Europe in the early 1920s. One of the most interesting genre was the airline souvenir map that was generally in the form of a medium-to-small scale geographical map that displayed an airline’s airports, routes, and destination.  While designed primarily to publicize the airline, they also were used for flight planning and entertainment before the advent of in-flight radio and movies.

The rare map displayed here was issued by the Curtiss Flying Services in 1929, and is typical of the earliest airline souvenir maps in the United States. While no documentation has been found to confirm that the Curtiss Flying Service ever established an amphibian coastal route from New York to Atlantic City, as shown here, it did provide air passenger service in flying boats along the coastal area between New York and Boston and along the Maine Coast from 1929 to 1932.

This map highlights features that passengers might observe from the slow-moving, low-altitude flying planes of that era when flying was a new form of transportation, and recognizing points of interest from space was still an exciting event during long flights in noisy, unheated aircraft.  These include airports, railroads, racetracks, Coast Guard stations, lighted beacons, lightships, and lighthouses.

The border insets of aerial photographic views are also typical of early airline maps. Airline guide and map publishers were among the first to use this new technology. Born during the barbarous trench warfare of World War I, airline publishers used aerial photographs to introduce passengers to the wonders of flight.  Those displayed here show prominent city skylines, seacoast beaches, piers, and resorts located along the flight route.  In addition to their visual appeal, these images served as navigation aids that help orientate the air traveler in time and space.

Passenger safety and comfort are highlighted on the map’s cover and verso. During the first two decades of commercial aviation airline maps helped promote this new form of transportation in the face of the public’s general fear of flying with detailed information about pilot training and experience, flight procedures, aircraft reliability, and navigation aids.  A picture of a Sikorsky S-38 eight-seat amphibian, built by the great Russian designer Igor Sikorsky, adorns the map cover.  The general public considered flying boats safer than landplanes. Several notes on the map cover flap and verso reinforce this notion. One informs the map reader that “These twin-motored, flying yachts, which alight on water or land and take off from either with equal ease, provide an assurance of safety.”  More comforting, perhaps, is the message that this flight is routed past 27 Coast Guard signal stations “for added safe guidance,” stations which are boldly marked on the map by a dot within a square.  Other notes directed to first time flyers describe basic flight experiences, such as “air pockets,” air pressure variation, “banking,” and water “taxiing.”

This may be the earliest airline map published by Rand McNally. From 1929 to 1972, Rand McNally produced at least thirty-five different airline passenger maps for fourteen airlines.  Many of the maps were revised and reprinted several times.