Trans World Airlines Collections Document Kansas City’s Place in Aviation History

Missouri holds a significant place in aviation history, not least because of the longtime presence within the state of Trans World Airlines (TWA). Long headquartered in Kansas City, TWA once planned to build its primary hub there, but after many years of disagreement with the local authorities, the airline giant instead established its operations center at St. Louis Lambert International Airport while moving its corporate headquarters to New York. In 1992, TWA filed its first of three bankruptcies and moved the headquarters to St. Louis.

The Trans World Airlines Records (K0453), donated beginning in 2005, trace the company’s history from its founding as Western Air Express on July 13, 1925, to its acquisition by American Airlines in April 2001. A company that began with a US Postal Service contract to carry mail grew into an international airline that helped turn air travel from a luxury few could afford to an indispensable industry for an increasingly mobile society. The collection’s more than 280 cubic feet of records are divided into three basic categories: training and operation manuals, incident files, and miscellaneous other materials, including publications such as Skyliner, the company newsletter, which is accessible online.

In addition to the Trans World Airlines Records, the State Historical Society’s Kansas City Research Center holds several other collections related to the airline. While most of these related materials are personal papers of people who worked for TWA, some collections contain organizational records for associated groups. The TWA Active Retired Pilots Association Collection (K0563), for example, contains records of the association, publications such as some issues of TARPA Topics from 1983 to 2004, and seniority lists of Trans World Airlines pilots from 1945 to 1997.

Another collection, the Christopher Jackson Clark Papers (K0555), documents Clark’s 35-year career as a commercial pilot as well as his involvement with TARPA. During his career, Clark was involved in a court case that shaped federal policy regarding mandatory commercial pilot retirement based on age.

The Clark Papers also consist of directories, publications, newspaper clippings, correspondence, and seniority lists. A recent addition expanded the collection from a quarter of a cubic foot to over 12 cubic feet. The new accession (KA2437) contains materials similar to those in the original donation as well as photographs, promotional items, and several issues of Skyliner and TARPA Topics.

Another recent acquisition, the Glenn R. Zander Papers (KA2442), documents a difficult period in the company’s history. Zander worked for the airline from 1964 to 1994. By 1990, when he was the company’s chief financial officer, TWA was facing financial difficulties. After filing for bankruptcy, the company was acquired by American Airlines in 2001. Materials in the Zander collection relate to the monetary hardships encountered by Trans World Airlines.

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