Old Magazines with Michael John, no. 1: Make Air Travel More Convenient!

I’m Michael John, a new volunteer docent at the Kelch Aviation Museum – and I’m “hooked” on old magazines, especially old airplane magazines. I thought I’d combine this compulsion with learning more about the Golden of Age of Aviation, and the rapid developments of aircraft uses and design throughout that period. Reading old magazine articles and advertisements will be fun as well as provide me with more context for the Kelch collection. So every month I’ll look back 90 or 100 years (or both), and then share with you any tidbits that jump out at me. No learned analysis here, just interesting stuff.

The color scheme of Aviation Magazine and the museum’s Curtiss 12W match – a fun coincidence.

90 YEARS AGO:  “Airplane Mode” in 1931

I started with the December 1931 issue of Aviation magazine (as the magazine had then come to be known).  It contained an advertisement that caught my attention.  The ad, from the Postal Telegraph company, was trying to get airlines to adopt their service.  In bold type the ad’s caption reads “Make Air Travel More Convenient”.

The ad features a half-dozen passengers standing in front of an airliner (Lockheed Vega, I think,).  Like the endless cell phone advertising bombarding us today, this ad plays on the desire that “As long as people travel they’ll want to send messages en route…messages of greeting…reservations and appointments…all kinds of messages.” 

The advertisement touting the miracles of modern technology…

What was different 90 years ago was how those messages were to be sent.  The service promoted in the ad offers passengers “the convenience of communications facilities aboard the plane.”  But, when continuing with the fine print, it states that the “…traveler merely secures a Postal Telegraph blank from a rack conveniently located in the cabin, writes his message and hands it to the attendant for filing at the next airport.  Postal Telegraph does the rest.  No fuss…no bother…no delay.”

At first I thought we’ve come a long way in our communications since 1931, but then I remember that flying commercially I need to put my cell phone on “airplane mode,” delaying my messages until on the ground at my destination.  Anyhow, this ad caught my attention and gave me a little glimpse into air travel in late 1931.

100 YEARS AGO: Aviation Legislation

My attention was drawn to an article on “State Aeronautical Legislation” in the December 5, 1921 issue of Aviation and Aircraft Journal (a precursor to the current Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine).  As some context, there were no federal laws governing aviation until the Air Commerce Act was passed in 1926.  Regulation of planes, pilots, and flying, if any, were left to state and local requirements. 

The front page of the Convention Relating to the Regulation of Air Navigation. Aviation regulations were a big topic at the 1919 Paris Peace Convention, and set the groundwork for much of the legislation adopted worldwide. Picture taken from the International Civil Aviation Organization.

The first half of the 1920s saw a long struggle to define what role the federal government would play in the oversight of aviation.  The author notes that “The desirability of federal air legislation which would provide for a uniform set of laws applicable to air navigation in all parts of the United States has repeatedly been pointed out in these columns.  The large number of state air laws which are enumerated below show the urgent need of prompt Congressional action…”  The desire for uniform regulation was a common argument during this period for those wanting federal oversight.

The article then lists the 17 states, along with the territory of Hawaiian Islands, that had enacted their own aviation laws.  One of those listed was a Wisconsin law passed in 1919, which provided for county landing fields, but didn’t give any further details.  Wisconsin counties still have the authority to own and operate airports.  It’d be interesting to see how this law evolved over the last 102 years, but that’ll have to be a future project.

The Milwaukee County Airport, circa 1930. Photo from Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame. Read about the early history of this airport in this article from the WAHF site.

A former pilot, avid trout fisherman, dedicated volunteer, and all-around cool dude, Michael John Jaeger works at the museum on Saturdays from 10am to 4pm. Swing by sometime to meet him in person and talk nerdy old magazines to your heart’s content!

Micheal John will be writing a monthly installment on old magazines, so watch for a new post in January.

Love what you read? Consider donating just $5 to the museum today, to help us keep vintage aviation alive.


  1. Reply
    Marc Remhof says:

    Someone had to ask, so it might as well be me. What airplane is that pictured in front of the Milwaukee County Airport?

    • Reply
      kelchmuseum says:

      Hi Marc, the aircraft in front of the hangar is a Hamilton Metalplane. From the linked article:

      “Thomas F. Hamilton owned a successful aircraft and propeller manufacturing business in Milwaukee. In 1920, Hamilton had purchased the Hirschbuehl farm located on Layton Avenue on the city’s south side. He located his business there and built an airport on the site that would serve both his business and its customers.”

  2. Reply
    Greg Beyer says:

    Great job on the first installment. The information presented really takes us on a neat trip in history. This is an excellent addition to the website and a good reason to come back for more.

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