The Newberry

Mapping Movement

TWA Airway Map, 1939

Referenced by Essay: 

By the late 1930s, commercial aviation was dominated by four major airlines - American, Eastern, TWA (Transcontinental and Western Air Inc., later Trans World Airlines), and United - who competed with one another for passengers through national advertisement campaigns, which was reflected in the form and design of the airline souvenir maps distributed to passengers.

Rand McNally’s TWA Airway Map and Log is representative. TWA was formed in 1930, a merger of two pioneer airlines, Western Air Express (WAE) and Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT), generally known as the Lindbergh Line, after Charles Lindbergh, the airline’s technical advisor who laid out and organized the first-coast-to-coast commercial airline route and helped write the specifications that led to the Douglas DC-3 airliner in 1936.  A picture of the DC-3, the world’s first great modern airliner, is illustrated on the cover of this map, along with a happy couple in business attire in the foreground. While the vast majority of airline passengers during the 1930s were businessmen, the opposition of wives to their husband’s flying was still a serious problem for the airlines so every effort was made by airline advertising departments to minimize this issue through illustrations such as this one.

The large map of the United States is known as the “systems” or network map since it displays the extent of the airline’s routes, connecting lines and airports, generally in a bold red color.  Systems’ Maps are normally overprinted on a base map that includes state boundaries, rivers, time zones, and often terrain representation for aid in orientating the reader. TWA’s systems map was very typical except that bold red color routes contrasts with the single-width blue lines that represents “Other Air Lines, ” implying TWA’s dominant coverage of the United States. An illustrated inset below the systems map titled “The Sunny Santa Fe Trail,” suggests the allure and romance of the southwest to encourage travel to this region during the winter season when air travel business fell sharply.

On the verso and one front panel, ten larger scale route maps are shown, each enhanced with insets of scenic views and iconic landmarks designed to aid passengers in following their route and to pass the time. In a note comparing “air maps” to road maps, passengers are informed the “Map experts co-operating with TWA’s Navigation Department have taken great care to make this map accurate and helpful in every detail.” The use of displaying airline routes in the form of miniature strip maps remained popular with airline map publishers through the early 1950s.

In response to a general rise in the public’s fear of flying following a succession of highly publicized airline accidents in the United States in 1936-37, Airline map publishers, including Rand McNally, the publisher of this map, described and depicted new safety features such as radio navigation aids, light beacons, and weather reporting stations in an effort to sell flying. The four-course radio range, the backbone of the American air navigation system during the late 1930s, is illustrated and described in detail, for example, and its locations along the flight routes are depicted with a yellow symbol.