Ships of the Air

Pan American was the first airline to use nautical terms. Words like “captain” and “stewards” attracted customers used to luxury ship travel. By the early 1930s, airlines were introducing distinctive uniforms for their employees, and women were entering the ranks of flight attendants. Pilots were given military-style uniforms to reflect their status. Pan American emulated luxurious ocean liner service by calling its flying boats “Clippers” and its pilots “Captains,” and attiring its crews in naval-style uniforms with white hats and navy-blue, double-breasted jackets and rank insignia on the sleeve cuffs. Other airlines followed suit. Many of these customs continue today. While Pan Am and other airlines employed men as stewards, Boeing Air Transport introduced the first female stewards. The first stewardess, a nurse from Iowa, Ellen Church wanted to become an airline pilot but realized that was not possible for a woman in her day. So in 1930, she approached Steve Simpson at Boeing Air Transport with the novel idea of placing nurses aboard airliners. She convinced him that the presence of women nurses would help relieve the traveling public’s fear of flying. Church developed the job description and training program for the first stewardesses. She first flew as a stewardess between Oakland and Chicago, and had only served for 18 months when an automobile accident grounded her. After her recovery, she completed her college degree and returned to nursing.



There is still a newness about air travel, and, though statistics demonstrate its safety, the psychological effect of having a girl on board is enormous.”–comment about the addition of stewardesses from an airline magazine, 1935

Credit: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
America by Air–Airline Expansion and Innovation 1927-41

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.