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.
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.”
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 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.
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.
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