Thanks to an ongoing grant from the NHPRC, a finding aid for the Trans World Airlines records has now been completed. Trans World Airlines was a major airline in the 20th century. It existed from 1925-2001, after which it merged with American Airlines. It was originally named Transcontinental & Western Air (T&WA) because of the merger between Transcontinental Air Transport (T-A-T) and Western Air Express in 1930. It was the main U.S.-based competitor of Pan American Airlines and one of the first airlines to offer exclusively air-based coast-to-coast service, called the Lindbergh Line, from the advice the airline received from Charles Lindbergh. Because of the high profile advisers at T&WA, it was called “The Airline Run by Flyers.”
In 1938 Howard Hughes, business magnate, bought 25% of the airline and went on to control 78% of the airline by 1941. The airline prospered during WWII due to its business from Army flights. It was also during this period that Hughes’s leadership led the airline to become known for cutting-edge technology in the field of commercial aviation. In 1950 the airline officially changed its name to Trans World Airlines and became known as the “Airline to the Stars” because of its famous clientele. TWA was the first airline to hire an African American flight attendant and the first to show in-flight movies, starting in 1961.
More recently, TWA began to suffer from a series of misfortunes. On June 14, 1985, TWA Flight 847 was hijacked by Lebanese Shia extremists, later identified as members of Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad. In 1995 the airline declared bankruptcy and began to suffer troubles due to its aging fleet. On July 17, 1996, TWA Flight 800 exploded on a flight over the Atlantic Ocean near Long Island, killing all 230 people on board. While initial speculation was of a terrorist attack, the final National Transportation Safety Board report concluded that the cause was the ignition of fuel vapors probably caused by an electrical short circuit. Finally, TWA merged with American Airlines in 2001 after declaring bankruptcy for the third time.
The records within this collection mainly encompass the engineering, maintenance, and technical tasks of the company from 1944-1970. There are many reports from vendors such as Lockheed, British Aircraft Corporation, General Electric, and Boeing. Blueprints and technical drawings are also present. The collection provides a fascinating view of how an airline was maintained in the mid-20th century.
–Kathryn Brooks and Emily Christopherson, Processing Archivists