Come Fly Away: Trans World Airlines Records Recently Processed!

1929 TWA Luxury Liner, built by the Douglas Aircraft Company. Now that's flying in style! TWA Records, Box 178. American Heritage Center.

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.”

A TWA flight soars over the San Francisco Bay area, 1929. TWA Records, Box 178. American Heritage Center.

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.

A TWA plane catching the light just so. TWA Records, Box 178. American Heritage Center.

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

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11 Responses to Come Fly Away: Trans World Airlines Records Recently Processed!

  1. Hello,
    As a retired TWA pilot and Viet-Nam veteran, I am, for medical reasons, wanting to know if my TWA medical records are archived somewhere. I was hired in March, 1968, and medically retired in January, 1985.

    Thank you for any assistance you might provide,

    Christopher Fromkin (AKA Christopher Karsten)

    • ahcadmin says:

      Hello Christopher,

      Thanks for contacting us! We hope that you enjoyed reading our blog post. We’ll have someone from our reference department contact you to help with this request.


  2. Alex says:

    Great shot of San Francisco! I’d estimate this shot was taken in 1939, as the bridges were not yet built in 1929.

  3. Robert L Kilby says:

    I am asking a question on be half of a friend who was a stewardess with TWA in 1970’s. She is trying to locate her employee I.D. Number. Do you have the resources to help her with this request?
    Appreciate any assistance you’re able to provide.

    Robert L Kilby

  4. Tynisha Edwards says:

    There was a newspaper ad and commercial with a group of kids “come and fly away on a winter holiday,,, TWA” I would love to find It to share with my child. As I was one of the kids in that ad and commercial. I believe it was late 70’s to very early 80″s

    • mmarcusse says:

      Thanks for the question Tynisha. One of our reference archivists will take a look into the collection and see if we have a copy. An archivist should be in touch in the next few weeks!

    • mmarcusse says:


      Unfortunately, we do not have a copy of that ad within the Trans World Airlines records here at the American Heritage Center. Most of what we have from TWA is technical documents as opposed to advertising materials. In addition to the TWA records, we also hold the papers of some former employees of TWA; I checked those for at least the newspaper ad but still came up empty.

      The State Historical Society of Missouri holds a very large collection of TWA records as well. The inventory is available here: They also hold a lot of technical material from TWA, but their collection does include a section of advertising material, particularly in Box 249. The State Historical Society of Missouri also holds additional TWA records that are not yet listed on the inventory. I would suggest contacting them through their research request form here: or sending an email to

      Best of luck and sorry that I was not able to help!

  5. Alix Ober says:

    Hi. I was wondering if any of these TWA records were public and how I could access them if so. Thanks!

    • mmarcusse says:

      Hi Alix,

      Thanks for the question. All of the TWA records that we have at the American Heritage Center are available to the public. Records are available in our reading room in Laramie, Wyoming Mondays 10am-7pm and Tuesdays through Fridays 8am-5pm. More information about on-site research is available at our website, here: If you are unable to come to our location, we can also provide photocopies or scans of requested material for a small fee. The current duplication fees are available here: An inventory of the TWA records available is here: If you have any other questions, would like to request photocopies or scans, or are planning a research visit, please feel free to get in touch with the reference department at and one of our reference archivists can assist you. Walk-in research visits are always welcome but with advance warning we can have boxes pre-pulled and waiting in the reading room for when you arrive. I hope this helps!

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