Traveling with Al Parker

As the holiday season winds down, we are all reminded of how stressful travel can be. Looking at the bygone days of airline travel is a way to reminisce of a simpler time. Remember when families always traveled with a smile and well behaved children? Remember when people would wear their nicest clothing to board a plane? Al Parker depicted such scenes during his long-held account with American Airlines.

Parker maintained an account with American Airlines for a number of years, a business relationship that was unheard of even for the likes of Norman Rockwell. Quite frankly, Parker created the standard for others in the field. Companies are always looking for new and exciting ways to market their brand, so the fact that Parker was able to create unique pieces for the same company over a large span of time says a lot about his capacity to constantly reinvent his methods.

The Al Parker Collection contains several tear sheets of Al Parker’s illustrations for American Airlines. The illustrations depict a wide spectrum of travelers: the glamorous woman, the family, the luxurious couple, the helpful flight attendant. Below are scans from the Al Parker Collection, all of which elucidate Parker’s inventiveness.

Glamour

Parker created many pieces that depict the glamorous American Airlines traveler. The illustrations depict fashionable women posed in very artful ways that create  interesting and playful compositions.

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Al Parker, American Airlines advertisement, date unknown

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Al Parker, American Airlines Advertisement, published in November 1952

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Al Parker, American Airlines advertisement, published in April 1957

Luxury

Parker created numerous illustrations that depicted American Airlines as the choice for luxury. The illustrations below show the life of the jet-setter: a couple dining leisurely while an airplane soars into the night sky, the ultra-modern first class lounge, and heading straight to from the airport to the marina to set sail.

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Al Parker, American Airlines Advertisement, published in February 1957

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Al Parker, American Airlines advertisement, circa 1960

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Al Parker, American Airlines advertisement, published in September 1957

Congenial Staff

This group depicts American Airlines staff as friendly and accommodating. Whether it’s taking care of children aboard the flight or giving you a clean shirt, they are clearly willing to go above and beyond.

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Al Parker, American Airlines advertisement, published in November 1951

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Al Parker, American Airlines advertisement, date unknown

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He was a businessman on a spot, only at first he didn’t realize it.

Actually the spot was Chicago and he hadn’t intended to stop there at all. After six gruelling days in New York he’d been out at the airport ready to Flagship back to California, when the home office called and asked him to stop off in Chicago to see an important prospect.

So here he was, an hour before his appointment, carrying a bag full of dirty laundry and wearing yesterday’s soiled shirt. That was why he asked American Airlines Ticket Agent Harry McKenzie, “Where’s the nearest place I can buy a clean shirt in a hurry?”

Only then did he realize the spot he was in. For McKenzie gently reminded him, “It’s Sunday, sir, and all the stores will be closed.”

Gloomily he outlined to McKenzie the story of his unexpected business in Chicago. McKenzie was a sympathetic man and fortunately a man of action too. “If you’ll tell me your shirt size sir,” he suggested, “maybe I can help you.” And then he hurried off.

In an amazingly short time, McKenzie was back, a clean white shirt in hand. (He’d found an American Airlines’ agent with the same shirt size who lived near the airport.) Five minutes later the passenger emerged from the washroom looking as neat and trim as Easter Sunday — and twice as joyous.

All of which answers the question — Should an airline give a passenger the shirt off its back? We, at American, say yes. For this kind of friendly personal service to all our passengers is a cherished tradition of the Flagship Fleet.

Al Parker, American Airlines advertisement, published in February 1953

The Nuclear Family

Parker had a knack for creating the idyllic family image and his work for American Airlines was no exception. While the illustrations do depict a certain wholesomeness, the images still have a genuine quality. The first two images below read as candid snapshot into family travels while the last image captures a moment to which many parents can relate.

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Al Parker, American Airlines advertisement, date unknown

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Al Parker, American Airlines advertisement, date unknown

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Al Parker, American Airlines advertisement, published in May 1955

Capturing the Older Demographic

Finally, Parker created several illustrations aimed at convincing the older generation that air travel is the preferred method of transportation. These advertisements point out that one woman has traveled “from stagecoach to airplane” while another proudly states that a “railroad man” is now convinced American Airlines is the only way to travel.

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Al Parker, American Airlines advertisement, published in January 1953

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Al Parker, American Airlines advertisement, published in April 1952

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Al Parker, American Airlines advertisement, date unknown

References

100 Years of Illustration and Design: Al Parker’s ads for American Airlines. October 11, 2006.

Peng, Lief. Today’s Inspiration: The Advertising of Al Parker. May 26, 2007.

 

For more information about the collection, browse the Al Parker Collection finding aid.

About the author

Andrea Degener is the Visual Materials Processing Archivist in the department of Special Collections at Washington University Libraries.