While working with the Allen Family Papers I came across some travel journals with ephemera from the trips (mostly postcards) laid in. The journals span 1909 to 1934 and cover the family’s trips to Europe (with one exception of a trip to California via the Panama Canal).
The journals presented a somewhat perplexing question. The earlier journals were written by Alfred Reginald Allen Sr. (1876-1918) while the later ones were written by Alfred Reginald “Reggie” Allen Jr. (1905-1988). What’s odd is that even though different people wrote them at different times, the journals all look physically the same; a small green canvas binder with three-holed notebook paper inside. I had to wonder how this could be. I figured that Allen Sr. purchased several binders at once and that Reggie continued to use them as travel journals after his father’s death. Another possibility is that Reggie put his father’s writings into the same type of binders he was using sometime after his father’s death. If I had to guess, I would say that the former is probably the case since the paper inside is such a rare size to find.
Since these journals were written well before the time that trans-Atlantic air travel came into being, the first and last portions of the journals always document the trip across the Atlantic and back via ocean liner. Being an avid ocean liner buff I found these portions, particularly the related ocean liner ephemera included, to be the most interesting.
At a time when a trip to Europe meant spending about a week at sea ocean liners had to be more than basic transport but more akin to a floating city. The various companies (notably the German and British lines) competed to outdo each other in size, speed and grandeur to lure passengers to book passages on their ships. Essentially they wanted to make the ship itself a destination. With that in mind, traveling during the heyday of the ocean line gives truth to the old adage: “Getting there is half the fun.”
Passenger lists on the best ships tended to read like a veritable Who’s Who of American and European society. The French line Compagnie Générale Transatlantique went so far as to print lists of passengers for the passengers. Maybe this was that well to do people could plan whom they would be dining with aboard the ship (getting a “good” table was of the utmost importance).
Although commercial air travel was available starting in the 1920’s it did not really take off (no pun intended) until the 1950’s. Commercial jets such as the DeHavilland Comet and the Boeing 707 provided passengers with a much faster and cheaper way of crossing the Atlantic. By the 1960’s the age of the ocean liner was all but over. But in the first decades of the twentieth century, air travel was more of a novelty as this brochure from the London Aerodrome (dated 1913) that was with the journals can attest to.