Aviation can be linked to nearly all the major developments of the 20th century. One of the greatest changes it brought about was the commercialisation of air travel. This newly formed industry emerged as an exciting and glamorous way of travel for the public.
The air travel industry rapidly developed and had significant influence on society. Its economic growth and popularity produced many high quality travel posters over the years. Rival airlines hired the best designers, photographers, and artists to produce thousands of travel posters that still amaze and delight us to this day.
Aviation has over the years been transformed from its original pioneering marvel to an industry driven by low-costs – but the ground-breaking travel posters produced during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s remain as beautiful memoirs of this golden age of travel.
Swissair, the original national Swiss airline, created many of these iconic travel Swissair posters which perfectly captured the airline’s excellence and reliability as well as the sophisticated and exciting spirit of the Jet Age.
Reber, Swissair – DC-4 HB-ILU, 1952
The first flight carrying passengers in Switzerland took place in 1920. This initiated a rapid boom in the Swiss air travel industry which unified the great cities of Europe.
Swissair was founded in 1931 and continued its service until 2002. During its 71 years of flight, Swissair was renowned for excellent and reliable service, which made it a highly esteemed company throughout the world.
The airline was established from the merger between Balair in Basel (founded in 1919) and Ad Astra Aero in Zurich (founded in 1925). The newly formed Swissair airline had a total combined fleet of 13 planes with the capacity to transport 86 passengers. At its start it had 10 pilots and offered service to 13 European cities.
The airline continued to grow but unlike most other European airlines, Swissair did not receive support from their government. It was only in 1951 when this changed, and the Swiss government purchased 30% of the airline’s shares. The support from the government transformed the airline into the official national carrier of Switzerland.
Since then, Swissair had become a well-loved icon and symbol of Switzerland. The Swiss cross on the tail of their planes stirred up pride and unity within Swiss citizens in airports across the world.
Swissair highly valued quality and reception. These ideals were applied to every aspect of the airline, which made Swissair greatly successful and respected. It was the first airline in Europe to hire an air hostess. Nelly Diener, who joined Swissair in 1934, was nicknamed ‘The Angel of the Skies’ and became a mascot of sorts for the company.
Swissair itself received the nickname ‘The Flying Bank’ as it was such a financially stable airline. During its 70 years of service, Swissair grew into a major international airline, transported 260 million passengers across the world and hugely contributed to Switzerland’s cultural influence.
Wirth, Swissair – Convair Metropolitan, 1956
Travel posters were critical in aviation’s evolution and were particularly key in the democratization of airline transport. The aviation advancements and the resultant expansion demanded numerous posters to be created. Today, Swissair posters have become witnesses and icons of the exciting development in air travel and design.
The worldwide boom in air travel increased competition amongst airlines. Advertising became crucial in establishing and promoting the visual identity of airlines to consumers.
Destinations, speed, security, comfort, and service became the principal themes promoted through travel posters to entice the public to air travel and to build their trust. Swissair used striking and innovative designs to differentiate themselves and ensure their continued success over the decades.
Swissair produced their first poster, or rather advertising sign, in 1931. Since then, the airline continued to establish and maintain its trustworthy image and embraced a purist approach to design.
The airline became synonymous with the ‘Swiss-style’ graphic design. Swissair adopted this new, minimalist, typography-focused style of design as their own and many of the Swissair posters are considered some of the finest examples of the style.
True to Swiss-style graphic design, many of the Swissair posters are purely photographic or typography based. The simple, bold, and grid-based designs forged a new genre of travel posters to emerge. This innovative and unique approach made the airline’s posters stand out – an important factor in the highly competitive industry.
Ott, Swissair – Beginnen Sie Ihre Flugreise in Bern, 1955
Swissair took a few years to find a concise visual identity. Even its name was uncertain in the beginning, with Swissair also being referred to as ‘Swiss Air Lines’, ‘Lignes Aériennes Swissair’, Schweizerischer Luftverkehr ‘Swissair’, ‘Air Traffic ‘Swissair’, or ‘Swiss Air’.
As such, Swissair existed without a logo for the first few years after its formation. In early designs, Swissair’s name is written in simple typography, sometimes slanting to one side. Other designers tried more fanciful creations, but none of them stuck until 1937. Swissair’s logo is created with the ‘S’ as a capital letter and the ‘w’ rounded in shape and all written in an italicised script typeface.
Some found this logo unclear and difficult to read but despite this, the logo was used until 1951 – often it was mixed with various sans serif typefaces for clarity. For the airline’s 30th anniversary Rudolph Bircher created a red and white, speed-inspired logo that finally well-represented the company. The new logo provided stability and consistency to the brand and was used by the airline until 1981.
The iconic logo became a fine example of Swiss-style and it rooted Swissair in modernity and Swiss pride. The new elegant and concise look that the Swiss-style logo provided reinforced the ideals of the company: excellence in hospitality and security.
Bircher, Swissair – Logo Redesign, 1951
Travel posters were the main way Swissair promoted these security and service ideals. Their travel posters, and many other airlines’, often tried to highlight the safety and ease of air travel. Smiling airhostesses, welcoming captains, and relaxed passengers were commonly depicted.
A great example of this is the Swissair poster Donald Brun (1909-1999) created in 1949 for the airline. The poster shows a confident-looking captain welcoming a child on board. The imagery communicates safety and hospitality to the public in an aesthetically pleasing and attention-grabbing style.
Brun, Swissair, 1949
Brun studied art in Berlin and Basel and became an independent designer in 1933. Brun’s work achieved the designer many awards and was exhibited in numerous galleries and museums over the years.
Donald Brun was hired by Swissair multiple times during the 1950s. His simple and friendly, painterly style was well-suited to the Swissair brand and the travel poster medium. His people-centred travel posters evoked Swissair’s ideals perfectly and are still to this day considered travel poster marvels.
Many of Swissair’s photography-based travel posters are regarded as some of the greatest of the genre. Manfred Bingler (1928-1987) produced many of these marvels and was hired by Swissair to create multiple photographic Swissair posters series for the airline during the 1960s.
Bingler studied photography for five years in Zurich and worked commercially for 10 years until he founded his own commercial photography studio in 1964. He won numerous national and international awards for his photography and produced some of the greatest ever travel posters for Swissair – some of which are even exhibited in the MoMA.
His Swissair travel posters used popular iconographic symbols to represent destinations. They included minimal text and instead a close-up, single image was the focus. His iconic 1964 poster series comprised of high quality photographs of an object that represents a destination against a bright, block-colour background. This highly successful and striking series was reprinted again years later – a truly everlasting modernity.
Bingler, Swissair India (left) & Swissair Europe (right), 1964
By the start of the 2000’s, competition in air travel had become extremely intense and the success of airlines had evolved to become solely determined by pricing. Consumers no longer took the brand’s identity or the experience of the flight into consideration – of which both were Swissair’s strengths.
Moreover, the 2001 World Trade Center terror attacks in New York sent the air travel industry into crisis. These two major changes within air travel along with the over-expansion due to the controversial “Hunter Strategy” in the late 1990s and the refusal of credit from the Swiss banks, Swissair was forced to end its services in October 2002.
When flying was a matter of quality, Swissair flourished. The legacy this airline leaves behind is one of innovation and hospitality – beautifully captured by their unique and modern Swissair posters, which are still well-loved and praised today.
The other airline posters covered in our Vintage Airline Poster Series are about
If you want to find out more about airline vintage posters or if you are looking to buy a stunning original airline poster, check out these poster galleries and collectors listed on aproposter.com. Galerie 1 2 3 has a comprehensive Swissair poster collection.
-by Jessica Davies-