New Yorker writers in the 1920s by and large displayed a resistance to enthusiasm when they looked around at the changing the world, but when it came to advancements in aviation, they tended to drop the casual pose and get all dreamy-eyed.
Such was the case with even a clear-headed writer like Morris Markey, who in his “A Reporter at Large” column looked at our progress in aviation. Public interest in air travel grew dramatically after Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 Atlantic crossing, as did the expansion of air mail and passenger service and the growth of private plane ownership. As Markey noted in this opening paragraph, for all the advances in American aviation, the Europeans were well ahead in establishing regular passenger service, as it has become “commonplace”:
To get some sense of European (and specifically German) aviation superiority, look no further than the Dornier Do-X, a massive seaplane developed by the Germans in the mid-1920s that began regular passenger service in July 1929. While America’s biggest planes could carry 12 to 18 passengers, the spacious and luxurious Dornier Do-X could comfortably seat 70 to 100 passengers and included a dining salon, smoking lounge and wet bar. A few months after its first flight the Do-X broke a world record by carrying 169 passengers—astonishing when one considers only 25 years had passed since the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk.
Markey noted in his article the growing interest in commuter flights among business executives. What seemed like a high demand to Markey was an average of three commuter flights a day.
Markey also lamented New York’s lag in building up passenger service, especially when air travel was growing leaps and bounds in the Midwest and West, and especially in rival Chicago:
Markey also noted the modest number of planes in private hands, but expected private ownership to increase dramatically in the coming months:
Although Markey lamented the slow growth of New York aviation, he was nevertheless dazzled by the “ships” taking to the skies at Curtiss Field.
Jumping ahead a couple of years, New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno offered this view of passenger flight, the passengers in this case a bunch of silly toffs (April 12, 1930).
And back to the June 2, 1928 issue, we find this ad for Rolls Royce that offered a vision of a future airliner—in the year 1948. Since the artist had no clue what the future would hold, he conjured up this contraption that looked like a streamlined ark attached to a huge zeppelin.
And just for kicks (and contrast), this ad for Lincoln was all about tradition, except for the nice typographical flourish on the letter “L” —a definite nod to Bauhaus style.
And if you thought novelty in our gadgets is a fairly recent thing, check out these portable Kodak cameras that were available in five colors. From automobiles to typewriters, manufacturers in the 1920s were discovering that color distinguished their products and even drove demand (click image to enlarge).
Advertisers could also create demand by appealing to readers’ cravings for status. The following ad for a Lord and Burnham greenhouse is an especially egregious example of the use of status shaming to sell a product. Note how the foursome in the illustration, presumably all greenhouse owners, look at the man without a greenhouse as though he’s a child molester or worse.
Before Green Eggs and Ham
In 1928 ads for Flit insecticide began to appear in the New Yorker, illustrated by none other than Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel. This is the first Flit ad to appear in the magazine, in the June 2, 1928 issue:
In the 1920s people didn’t seem too concerned about the toxicity of the products they used (for example, we’ve seen Lysol used as a feminine douche). Although the Flit ads aimed to be humorous, it still seems odd to imply that one might gargle with the insecticide. As we shall see, subsequent Flit ads will show the product being sprayed indiscriminately over food, children, pets etc.
Taking a Shot at the Babe
The cartoonist I. Klein had some fun with the hyperbole often attached to the athletic feats of the Sultan of Swat:
And finally, Peter Arno looked at murder among the upper classes:
Next Time: The Russians Are Coming…