PRESENTING THE CASE FOR TWA'S
Our museum's largest display case tells the story of TWA's flight attendants. Uniforms, images and related items make this among our most popular attractions. And, it's no wonder why. Here, and in other displays, visitors see the unique place our cabin staff occupied in the history and culture of TWA.
The Faces of TWA
Not long ago, one of our younger museum visitors asked the seemingly simple question, "How many people does it take to fly a jet?" What would you say? Two? Maybe three? That's what our guide said, but as he was heading home that afternoon, he thought some more about it. The answer is really dozens of people. In addition to the cockpit crew, flights could not operate without the work of others. Among them, planners, crew schedulers, dispatchers, mechanics, computer programmers, agents, baggage handlers and, of course, flight attendants. And if you think about it, of all of those people, it's typically flight attendants who have face-to-face contact with customers for the greatest amount of time. In the confined space of an airplane cabin, it comes down to flight attendants to greet you, see to your comfort and most importantly, keep you safe. As if that weren't enough, they also represent the culmination of the work performed by all those other employees. From the first group of TWA "hostesses" hired in 1935 to the flight attendants working the last TWA flights in 2001, they truly were the "faces of TWA".
A Brief Word About Terminology
When the decision was made by TWA in 1935 to hire for this position, management of the airline determined it would be staffed by women and they would be called "hostesses". The term inferred a welcoming quality, as one would experience when entering a home. That title would remain until 1970 when the more familiar name "cabin/flight attendant" was officially adopted. In our article, you'll see us use both terms, dependent upon the time period being discussed.
Dressed for Success
Although you'll find items related to our in-flight collection throughout the museum, the core of it occupies our largest display case. Measuring 20' x 8', Case 3 contains eleven historic hostess uniforms, dozens of photographs and countless memorabilia pieces. It's among our most visible and popular displays. The attention of most visitors is initially captured by the first uniform on display. It was actually the second uniform style worn by TWA hostesses. Introduced in 1938 and designed by TWA's chief hostess, Gladys Entriken, there were two seasonal variations. The "winter" version we show has an additional story to tell. In 1941, famed artist George Petty created a drawing featuring the image of a TWA hostess. The purpose was twofold: to generate publicity for TWA and to drum up patriotism, as World War II unfolded. "TWA's Petty Girl", wearing a winter uniform, would be seen by millions through posters, postcards and even luggage tags. The museum displays two reproductions of the drawing, one adjacent to the uniform.
|1938 uniform as seen in our museum and in the |
George Petty drawing
Taking a Moment
Before moving onto the next item, our guide would like to direct your attention to a small photo just above that 1938 uniform...TWA's first hostess class (graduated December 6, 1935). The class consisted of 22 young women and we can tell you some things about them. Their path to graduation was not easy, as TWA initially hired just 60 hostesses from a pool of over 2,000 applicants. Furthermore, each of the women seen was between 21 and 26 years of age, was between 5' and 5'4" tall, was a registered nurse and was not married. We should add that TWA looked for each to possess "intelligence, tact and charm". Their training took place at Kansas City Municipal Airport (today, the home base of our museum) and consisted of topics including geography, ticket handling and working the heating system on the DC-2. Each received $2.50 per day during her three-week training course for personal expenses and apartment rent. Most significantly, they were creating a new career path for women in an industry that was in its infancy, embarking on a journey that was certainly unfamiliar to them. The future was potentially exciting and rewarding as much as it was unpredictable. As our visitors learn more about the thousands of people who would become TWA hostesses and flight attendants, it's important to reflect on the faces in this picture. The start of it all.
Back on the Case
With one uniform down and ten more to go in Case 3 (as well as eight additional uniforms in nearby cases), this usually is the point where some visitors may panic, as they fear our guide will spend the next several minutes talking fashion. Not to worry. We'll tell you right now that our guide is no fashion expert and will not attempt to describe nineteen uniforms and accompanying accessories (he still isn't clear on what gaberdine actually is and easily confuses names of fashion designers). So, with apologies to Oleg Cassini, Pierre Balmain and others, we'll point out just a few that are significant and/or generate the most attention.
By 1944, TWA was preparing to integrate the first Lockheed Constellations into its fleet. Hostess training classes were now six weeks in length, as longer flight segments on newer, more comfortable aircraft required more service training. 1944 also marked the introduction of one of TWA's most intriguing hostess uniforms, the "cutout". Designed by Howard Greer, its most notable feature was the stylized "TWA" in a cutout pattern by the right shoulder. What makes this uniform especially interesting is the triangular flap buttoned above the cutout. When unbuttoned, it fell to cover the "TWA" letters, making the uniform wearer unidentifiable as a TWA hostess. An off-duty hostess could lower the flap, enabling her to participate in prohibited on-duty activities such as smoking or chewing gum. This uniform's introduction was soon followed by a major hiring change. World War II, and the accompanying need for nurses, made it difficult for TWA to attract enough qualified candidates for hostess positions. As a result, the requirement to be a nurse was discontinued. The "cutout" uniform was eventually retired in 1955, after an impressive eleven year run. Many of our museum's vintage photos from the 1940s and 1950s prominently feature this unique uniform.
|The "cutout" uniform in service and as displayed at our|
Designs of the Times
As you move through the contents of Case 3, you'll begin to realize that we are displaying more than uniforms and related items. You effectively are looking at the chronicle of a unique profession, as well as the evolution of culture and style of the mid-to-late twentieth century. TWA reached out to the leading fashion designers of the era to present a sophisticated and contemporary image. Even though some uniforms on display are over fifty years old, they are still very impressive. Style is, of course, a matter of personal taste. Those museum volunteers and visitors who once were TWA flight attendants will often tell us what they did or did not like about wearing a specific uniform. Our guide always enjoys listening to this and the many other reactions of visitors.
Is That Really a Paper Dress You're Wearing?
During the era of airline "regulation" (prior to 1978), most every aspect of air travel in the U.S. was dictated by the Civil Aeronautics Board. Among other strict market regulations, airlines competing on the same route were required to charge the same fares. As the faces of TWA, hostesses/flight attendants occasionally participated in marketing efforts intended to set TWA apart from its competitors. One such promotion is highlighted in Case 3. Begun on April 1, 1968, "Foreign Accent Service" was TWA's attempt to leverage its international image to attract passengers to its domestic U.S. flights. Certain longer-haul flights (such as New York - Los Angeles) were themed to create a foreign, cosmopolitan atmosphere. It could have been French, Italian, British or American (an inquisitive young visitor once asked our guide what was "foreign" about the American theme). To "brand" that experience, hostesses were outfitted in one of four appropriately themed uniforms, made from paper (that's right, paper). Hostesses donned the uniform prior to the flight and disposed of it when the flight was over.
|This newspaper ad from 1968 says it all.|
(click to enlarge)
In Case 3, you can see all four uniforms up close (the French mini-dress, Italian toga, British pub server and Manhattan penthouse party hostess). These "wear once and dispose" dresses were designed as wrap-arounds, secured with velcro fasteners. Hostesses typically carried a pair of scissors and tape to adjust the length. The promotion was short-lived. Logistical problems involving coordination of the dresses with the flight's theme developed and supply problems meant later uniforms had to be constructed with a lighter-weight paper, which was more prone to tearing. Some senior hostesses were reluctant to wear the dresses, including legendary flight attendant, Ida Staggers. Ms. Staggers, hired in 1936, was not pleased with this promotional role. Despite a large financial outlay for logistics and advertising, the program died quietly, never making it past 1968.
|Our rare collection of all four "Foreign Accent" uniforms on display.|
Less flamboyant (and longer-lasting) was TWA's "Blue Chip Service" promotion. Also begun in 1968, it was used on the highly competitive New York La Guardia - Chicago O'Hare route. Aimed squarely at business travelers, a number of amenities were offered, including a robust service on meal flights and hefty snacks on others. For a time, beer on tap from a mobile keg was offered (carbonating the brew at cabin pressure often produced a "frothy" experience). Flight attendants wore a white polyester dress, decorated with images of blue chips. The uniform is on display in Case 3. Not surprisingly, it attracts its share of attention.
|The Blue Chip uniform clearly stands out among others.|
An Era of Many changes
Our chronological tour continues to the smaller Case 4, which displays uniforms from the 1970s. These uniforms also accompanied significant changes to the profession of TWA flight attendant. Policy regarding work after marriage had been amended several times over the years and was permanently resolved in 1969. Marriage was no longer at all a factor in continued employment and most significantly, in hiring. Starting in 1971, pregnancy no longer ended a flight attendant's career. 1970 also saw the discontinuance of the term "hostess" and introduction of "cabin/flight attendant". And a significant threshold was achieved in 1972 as males were hired to work as TWA flight attendants. Case 4 includes three Stan Herman-designed uniforms introduced in 1974, with coordinated female and male styles.
And finally, a separate case adjacent to Case 4 contains TWA's last designer-inspired uniform. Designed by Ralph Lauren and introduced in 1978, the summer version is displayed. That summer uniform was later discontinued in favor of a year-round navy-colored version and was worn throughout the 80s and 90s. A final uniform, introduced in the 90s, had similar lines to the 1978 Lauren winter uniform. Some flight attendants continued to wear the Lauren uniform until the American Airlines acquisition in 2001. To round out our uniforms displayed, a nearby case contains the last uniform worn by Ozark Air Lines flight attendants prior to their merger with TWA in 1986.
|Part of Case 4,showing Stan Herman's 1974 coordinated |
male and female uniforms.
|1978 Ralph Lauren summer uniform|
|Ozark Air Lines uniform|
Men At Work
Although 1972 is widely viewed as the year males were first introduced into TWA cabin service, their presence actually goes back much farther. Prior to the hiring of hostesses in 1935, TWA passengers were served on board by male "couriers". These young men were actually quite versatile. Their workday often included driving passengers to the airport, picking up meals on the way, loading baggage and, of course, offering in-flight service. Their darker (midnight blue) winter uniforms resembled those worn by pilots; however, their white summer uniforms gave more of a nautical look. Due to economic hardships associated with the 1929 stock market crash, the courier position was discontinued and a new guy was assigned to cabin service... the co-pilot! Needless to say, this "dual occupation" of cockpit/cabin crew member created difficulties. In certain situations, when the co-pilot was required in the cockpit, the passengers were pretty much on their own. A few years later, hostesses came to the rescue. Males next appeared in the cabin with the establishment of the purser position, coinciding with the awarding of international traffic rights to TWA in 1945. The purser remained an all-male occupation until 1967, when female flight attendants were permitted to pursue the position, as well.
|Among TWA's original multi-taskers, couriers display their |
summer and winter uniforms.
Introducing Our Faces
Museum volunteers who were once TWA hostesses and flight attendants were a tremendous help to our guide in preparing this article. In addition to providing historical information, they communicated the excitement, triumphs and sometimes frustrations associated with their work. They provided a unique perspective and a reminder that, while our museum displays thousands of artifacts and images, it's truly our people who make it the great place it is. Our guide thoroughly enjoyed chatting with them and it was quite clear that they have not lost the pride and enthusiasm about the work they performed. We'd like you to meet them (note that you can click on each photo to enlarge it).
|Carol's graduation class picture from 1967. Today, Carol|
poses with our "permanent" volunteers who display
some of the same uniforms she wore.
As our museum's archivist, Carol Emert feels that her work with TWA has come full circle. Born and raised in Fredonia, KS, her hostess career spanned April 1967 through May 1970 (Carol's class was the first to train solely on jet aircraft). Although marriage no longer precluded her from continuing her career, she decided to leave as her new husband's work required relocation away from her Kansas City base. Carol went on to obtain a degree in fine arts and spent almost 30 years at the prestigious Mulvane Art Museum in Topeka, Kansas, There, her duties included manager and curator of exhibitions and collections. She also served as interim and acting director. Today, Carol shares her skills with us in the critical work of archiving and preserving the thousands of TWA artifacts at our museum. Carol spends most of her time behind the scenes and is rarely seen by our visitors. Yet, her work as our archivist is key to the success of our museum.
|Zana's 1960 graduation picture, wearing the|
uniform she first admired from the observation deck. Today,
Zana stands next to one by Case 3.
Growing up in Trenton, MO, Zana Allen's family periodically took trips to nearby Kansas City to shop and spend the day. One stop usually included a visit to the observation deck at Kansas City Municipal Airport. As a youngster, Zana remembers watching the "beautifully outfitted" TWA hostesses walking to and from their aircraft. Voted "Princess" at the Missouri Regional State Fair in Trenton, one of the other winners eventually became a hostess at TWA and persuaded Zana to give it a try. Interestingly enough, Zana's first uniform (when hired in 1960) was the same one she admired from her days on the observation deck. Zana left TWA in 1962 to begin a family. During her flying time, Zana experienced the dawn of TWA's jet age. She remembers it as an exciting, yet sometimes challenging time and was thrilled to be a part of it. Today, Zana serves as a research and archives assistant at our museum.
|Larry on the line in 1974. Today, he poses in front of a|
similar uniform, at our museum.
Larry Dingman's 27-year career with TWA included a variety of in-flight related positions: flight attendant, purser, on-board director of customer service and flight attendant trainer (he also took calls in TWA's New York reservations office for six months). For a time, Larry also wrote and edited "On The Line", the internal publication for TWA in-flight services. A Kansas City native, Larry spent one year teaching high school before joining TWA in 1973. One of Larry's career memories was serving Barbra Streisand. Larry recalls her being very personable and enjoyed having her on board. The experience, however, was somewhat dampened when one of Barbra's dogs got airsick in Larry's lap. Today, Larry is one of our museum's visitor guides and serves as editor for this blog.
|Among the first five male TWA flight attendant graduates in|
his 1972 class picture. Joe today, helping to archive our
Joe Ballweg graduated from the first TWA flight attendant class that included males (in 1972). Thus began a 34-year career with TWA, with the first sixteen years in a variety of in-flight service positions. After flying for four years (as a flight attendant and on-board director of customer service), Joe spent the next twelve filling a number of roles in in-flight management and training. Born and raised in Ohio, Joe graduated college with a degree in radio and television communications. On the advice of friends, he applied to TWA. Joe can tell hundreds of career stories, but the most meaningful ones reflect his admiration of the work performed by the thousands of flight attendants he interfaced with. Joe says, "Flying is a constantly changing horizon, with different planes, cities and passengers each day. Whatever the circumstances, you got the job done." Today, Joe works in our museum's research and archives area.
|Janet's 1973 graduation photo. Today, she enjoys meeting and|
chatting with our visitors in the museum's gift shop
After graduating college, Janet Lhullier worked for a financial services company, transferring bonds and stocks. The highlight of her day was often lunchtime, when she could step outside and escape her windowless office. When a co-worker left the company to become a flight attendant, Janet was influenced to think about a career change. Eventually hired by TWA in 1973, Janet's "office" would never again be windowless. Based in New York and Boston for most of her 30-year career, Janet flew both domestic and international as a flight attendant and flight service manager, modestly describing herself as a "small town girl from Oklahoma who got to see the world." She also discovered that when you smile, people tend to smile back, which she feels served her well, over her career and throughout her life. Adds Janet, "Sometimes my face would hurt from constantly smiling on a 10-hour flight to Athens, but it was worth it!" Today, Janet's smile is shared with fellow volunteers and visitors, in our museum's gift shop.
|Pam's 1964 graduation picture. Seen today, Pam stands|
proudly in front of our museum's Lockheed Jetstar.
Our guide saved Pam Blaschum for last because she is special. Serving as the director of our museum, Pam continues to display the humor, energy and affection for people that accompanied her 41-year career flying for TWA. Growing up in Kansas City, she remembers being about ten years old when she was intrigued by a neighbor who was a hostess for Braniff. Eventually hired by TWA in 1964, Pam's career would take her all over the world. Pam says quite simply, "I loved my job." Pam became our museum's director in 2009 and was instrumental in relocating it (in 2012) to our current home, in TWA's first headquarters building. A "hands on" director, Pam is often seen in the museum's galleries, greeting and chatting with visitors, and occasionally exhibiting some good-natured humor (she once threatened to lock a visitor in the museum if they did not make a purchase in the gift shop). The TWA Museum wouldn't be the TWA Museum without Pam.
On a Final Note
As always, there's much more to the story. Our guide could talk for hours (don't panic... he won't). TWA flight attendant history is filled with countless facts and stories. Perhaps the best way to end the brief narrative we've presented here is to tell you about two events that were over fifty years apart, but tell a similar story. On April 7, 1936, a TWA DC-2 crashed in rural Pennsylvania. Hostess Nellie Granger was one of only three survivors, having been thrown from the aircraft. In shock and pain, she went back to the plane and rescued two passengers. After making sure they were stable and warm, she walked several miles before finding a house from which she called rescuers. News commentator Boake Carter would write: "An air hostess who today carried through a deed which well may make the womanhood of America proud."
On July 30, 1992, TWA flight 843, an L-1011 bound for San Francisco, experienced an aborted takeoff at New York's Kennedy Airport. The result was a crash. While fire and smoke were engulfing the aircraft, the crew of nine flight attendants and three pilots (assisted by five off-duty flight attendants and two off-duty pilots) undertook the daunting task of evacuating 273 passengers. The evacuation was completed in less then two minutes. There was no loss of life. Following is an excerpt from the NTSB report of the accident:
"The emergency evacuation was performed in a timely,
efficient, and exemplary manner that was the direct result of TWA's training
program. Both the flight attendants and the flight crew members, as well as
the off-duty crew members, performed exceptionally well in the evacuation."
(NTSB Report AAR 93/04, p. 67, para. 17)
|The stories of Nellie Granger and the crew of flight 843|
are displayed in our museum
For Your Information
We're open again after our winter break. We've updated several exhibits, including our flight attendant displays in Cases 3 and 4. We've also expanded our display space to show more of TWA's great history. Our guide is already taking notes and pictures, preparing to tell you all about it and more. Not to be excluded, our blog has also undergone a bit of a face lift as we've redesigned our home page to be less cluttered and to make the entire blog easier to navigate through. You may have noticed it on the way to this article. Feel free to let us know what you think about it. Speaking of hearing from you, we have introduced a new feature. "Letters To Our Guide". It provides a place for you to share your opinions and questions about anything on blog, for all our readers to see. Click here to see all the details. Your feedback is very important to us, so let us know what's on your mind.
We look forward to visiting with you again in our next blog article and as always, hope you'll get the chance to stop by the museum and see us.
Article written by Wayne Hammer
Edited by Larry Dingman
Copy editing by Pam Tucker
We also wish to acknowledge the author, editors and contributors of the reference publication:
TWA Cabin Attendants - Wings of Pride, 1935-1985.