The Royal Mail Lines Pacific Line took travelers to any number of South American countries. The cruise ship company’s life was short, operating only from 1932 to 1965. (Image courtesy of

 July 2024

Cover Story

Adventure Awaits

Travel posters jump-start travelers’ wanderlust

by Corbin Crable

It’s often said that planning a trip is just as fun as the trip itself, and travel posters have long given would-be travelers the chance to dream of faraway locations and awakened their thirst for adventure.

Not only glimpses of otherworldly locations, vintage travel posters specifically can be considered works of art, depicting soaring landscapes, wonderous works of architecture, everyday life of people in distant countries, scenes of serenity and tranquility that beckoned us with their vibrant colors and lively fonts.

Lithographic posters boost “explosion in pleasure travel”

We can trace travel posters’ history back to the late 19th century, when they weren’t so visually appealing – they still included pictures and visuals, but the travel posters of the 1890s were often crowded with text describing destinations in detail as well.

“At first, posters were crowded with information – a complexity of images, text and type-faces, but later developed into simplified, idealized and more graphic images of these new and exotic colonial lands,” according to an article on photography blog

In the early 1900s, technological advances of the previous decades were front and center as the posters became more visually appealing. This trend of a mixture of typography and art created the Golden Age of Travel, from the early 1900s to World War II.

Poster advertising travel to Japan

Poster Advertising Travel to Japan

This midcentury poster advertising travel to Japan highlights the cherry blossoms for which the country is so well known.
(Image courtesy of Etsy)

“The lithographic poster came into being just at the dawn of the explosion in pleasure travel and this new means of advertising, was ideally suited to educate and tempt the consumer,” the article reads. “Posters were first utilized in countries such as Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands during colonial times; for advertising large exhibitions, attended by both the trade and public.”

The big names in travel poster art included Adolfo Hohenstein of Italy, Emile Cardinaux of Swtizerland, and Hugo d’Alesi of Italy, who were among the first to combine stunning visual elements with bold, powerful text in their posters, created for travel companies to advertise themselves. Pasted up in public areas such as travel agencies, train stations, airports, and docks, they were a new way to help the travel industry promote destinations for a public hungry for adventure. Gillan notes that travel posters of the first half of the 20th century took inspiration from trends in design, among them Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Impressionism, Cubism, and Modernism.

poster advertising a vacation in Paris

Poster advertising a vacation in Paris

Photography began to be used in travel posters in the mid-20th century, as in this poster advertising a vacation in Paris.
(Image courtesy of

Taking to the skies

In the early 20th century, the relatively new method of travel – that of flight – captured the imaginations of a public eager to take to the skies. Unfortunately, until at least the end of the Great Depression, flying in an airplane was an activity only enjoyed by the wealthy and affluent.

“The very first commercial air flight took off on January 1st of 1914 from St. Petersburg, Florida, to Tampa, Florida,” writes Jesse Gillan of The Journal of Antiques in a 2017 article. “By the 1920s, Charles Lindbergh reached iconic celebrity status with his dream of crossing the Atlantic. Collectibles with his likeness and his plane The Spirit of St. Louis were sold across the United States and are still easy to find in most antique stores or on eBay. His transatlantic trip in 1927 proved to the world that air travel was a quick and safe option, opening new parts of the world to vacation exploration.”

Like numerous other industries, the travel industry saw a boost after the end of World War II in 1945. And, of course, the following Baby Boom beginning in 1946 brought with it larger families in newly-created suburbs with more disposable income.

poster advertising the White Star Line’s ill-fated RMS Titanic

Poster advertising the White Star Line’s ill-fated RMS Titanic

This poster advertising the White Star Line’s ill-fated RMS Titanic was released in 1911, only a year before the “unsinkable” ship sank in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic Ocean in April 1912. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

TWA poster

TWA poster

Kansas City’s historic fountains are front and center in this TWA poster from the 1970s. (Image courtesy of Etsy)

“Following the war, travel posters created in the late 1940s and 1950s opted for more serene and inspirational views of landscapes and cityscapes of potential destinations,” Gillan writes. “Many well-known artists got their start during this period by lending their art to publishers of travel posters. This period was a time for growth in the travel industry. Families were growing after the war and interest in space travel was afoot.”

The airplane is your canvas

The era of intercontinental travel accompanied the end of the war as well. Finally, travelers could enjoy journeys overseas that were convenient, comfortable, and reliable. Travel posters became more bold and colorful, too,

adventures in Europe is this Air France poster

Adventures in Europe is this Air France poster

Advertising colorful adventures in Europe is this Air France poster from 1960. (Image courtesy of

“The decades from roughly 1960-1980 were the real heyday for travel agencies and advertising for extended trips,” Gillan notes. “This is when producers of travel posters and promotional ephemera began to use color photographic imagery with improved printing processes. Posters could now be created faster and in far greater quantities. The graphics changed, too, becoming bold and stylish, and reflecting the modern and psychedelic styles of the ‘60s and ‘70s.”

During the mid-20th century, airlines hired more and more artists whose works wouldn’t only encourage intercontinental travel; some of them even became considered works of art. David Klein, an American artist commissioned by TWA, brought his abstract style to the airline’s posters, with one 1957 poster depicting New York City becoming a part of the permanent collection at NYC’s Museum of Modern Art, according to Gillan. This, he wrote, “contributed to the elevation of poster art to fine art.”

The art continued to spread, improve, and become produced in greater numbers. One airline, Braniff Airlines, even became known for commissioning painters to create works of art on the plane itself, “in effect providing flying advertisements. … You can find television ads from this time featuring Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali praising the flight in Braniff planes,” Gillan writes.

Braniff International Airways

Braniff International Airways

Braniff International Airways was famous for its team of artists who created engaging, colorful, fun posters beckoning travelers to a number of locations across the globe. This Braniff poster is from the 1950s. (Image courtesy of 1st Dibs)

poster advertising Victoria, Australia

Poster advertising Victoria, Australia

This poster advertising Victoria, Australia, was made in the 1950s. (Image courtesy of

Today, the concept of travel poster as fine art endures, with some of the more rare posters from the first half of the 20th century fetching $50,000 or more at auction. Original posters from the 1960s onward are usually priced between $200 and $500 in very good condition.

“(Travel posters) are purchased by both collectors and individuals looking to capture the dream of new and faraway lands, where anyone can become an explorer and see sites unknown,” according to Gillan. “Purchasing one of these vintage posters brings that sense to your home or office every day.”

The Windy City of Chicago

The Windy City of Chicago

The Windy City of Chicago welcomes travelers to the 1933 World’s Fair in this Art Deco-style poster. (Image courtesy of