In 2004, United’s Archive Coordinator, Barbara Hanson embarked on a project to identify and sort the company’s extensive collection of flight attendant uniforms dating back to the founding date of the profession on May 15, 1930. Hanson sought out retired flight attendants to assist in the volunteer project.
A professional textile conservationist was hired to conduct a class instructing the group on how to identify mold, mildew and bug infestations in the clothing. The volunteers were shown how to remediate these problems and to recognize when professional help would be required. They were also shown how to construct hangers that would pad and protect the clothing by using batting and unbleached cotton muslin.
Back to Front: Barbara Sakely, Linda Davis, Carole Tye and Marlene Dudek. In production line style, volunteers trace and cut pattern parts for the padded hangers that will help retain the shape and preserve the vintage uniform garments shown in the background.
Utilizing the resources of the United Airlines Archives in suburban Chicago, the volunteers began to write descriptions of the uniform changes from the first uniform in 1930 through the current uniform. Multiple sources of documentation and photos had been retained at United but required extensive search efforts to uncover.
Just when the project had gained great momentum, the archive program at United was cancelled early in 2005 and Hanson opted to retire. The uniform project work came to a halt. The research that was completed and in process was placed in storage on the company grounds along with the uniform collection.
In 2007, the United Airlines Historical Foundation approached United Airlines’ Onboard Division with the proposal to resurrect the uniform project with a new purpose in mind. That purpose was to complete the descriptions and photograph all the uniform garments and accessories of every documented uniform change and separate the uniform garments and accessories into four separate collections with the intention of donating a complete set of uniforms spanning nine decades to three recipient aviation organizations.
Volunteers Carole Tye, Linda Davis (Back L-R) and Marlene Dudek (Front) stand among a sea of vintage United Airlines uniforms being prepared for donation to three aviation museums.
The planned recipients of this valuable uniform collection are the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., the San Francisco Airport Commission Aviation Library and Louis A. Turpen Aviation Museum located at San Francisco International Airport. The United Airlines Historical Foundation will acquire a set for display at the United Airlines Denver Flight Center and for loans to other accredited aviation museums. The fourth set is to remain with the Onboard Division for future display at United’s Flight Attendant Training Center in suburban Chicago.
The project was approved to move forward in August 2007. Hanson, who is now UAHF’s Executive Vice President, headed up the effort again enlisting the help of the volunteers who assisted previously. These caring retired flight attendants and one administrative worker remain eager to continue to preserve an important part of the legacy of the flight attendant profession. They are pictured below:
Left to right: Karen Tilton, Carole Gurdak, Nancy Terrell, Barb Hanson, Carole Tye, Linda Davis and Marlene Dudek. United’s Senior Staff Representative, Nancy Terrell, was the group’s Onboard Division sponsor. She garnered United Airlines’ support to proceed with the uniform donations and secured the necessary work space. Karen Tilton, owns a business called Seamless Consulting and works exclusively with Brookhurst Inc., United’s uniform supplier, on all aspects of uniform issues. Karen uncovered a large number of unclaimed vintage uniforms that the team has now integrated into the collection.
This project is ongoing as of Summer 2008 and scheduled for completion early in 2009. Check back to this site for further updates.
UAHF UNIFORM AND DISPLAY PROJECTS – DENVER
Pictured above from left to right, the UAHF volunteer team of Laura Coats, Phyllis Jack and Janet Meyer seated, work with the Foundation’s own uniform collection at their offices at the United Airlines Denver Flight Center. Each woman is an experienced sewer and the skill has proven valuable to their work. Janet has patterned individual garment bags from cotton muslin for those uniforms dating back to the early years of flight in the 1930s and 1940s. The outside of the bag has a see-thru pocket holding pictures of the person whose uniform it was and, in some cases, using her machine’s embroidery feature, the name of the donor, date of employment and years the uniform was worn is stitched on for future identification.
Unbleached cotton muslin garment bag is used to protect vintage garments from mold, mildew and bug infestation.
The contents of each garment bag are well identified
Janet is also covering hangers with batting and unbleached cotton muslin so that no metal, wood or plastic can leach onto the fabric of the uniform. Laura is working with buckram, a woven stiffening fabric that helps to perk up stewardess hats and Phyllis is whitening blouses and shirts according to archival specifications.
Phyllis Jack achieved dramatic results using a whitening process to brighten faded uniform blouses from the 1990s.
Laura Coats displays buckram, the stiffening fabric used to restore crispness to vintage uniform hats
As uniforms are acquired into the collection, they are identified by date of issue, profession (Pilot, Stewardess, Customer Services, Mechanic, Ramp Service, etc.) and then checked for condition and wear. Each garment piece is tagged with an identification number and logged in a database. Eventually, the team hopes to house the uniforms by employee division (Flight Operations, Onboard Service, Customer Service, Ramp Service and Maintenance) as well as by era worn and size.
Using the resources of the UAHF uniform collection, the volunteers work on rotating displays at the Denver Flight Center incorporating them with other artifacts of bygone eras. Most recently a display of china dinnerware, glassware, silverware and serving smocks was introduced to complement the existing displays of stewardess hats and promotional buttons and pins.
UAHF volunteers recently completed a display of branded United dining service china, crystal, silverware and flight attendant service smocks at the United Airlines Flight Center in Denver.
The UAHF volunteers also support rotating displays of United memorabilia at the Wings Over The Rockies Museum, located at old Lowry Air Force Base in Denver. The Foundation displays are focused on eight eras in the company’s history. Artifacts and images from the "The War Years, 1941-1945" are currently being featured. Some of the items on display include a pilot and stewardess uniform paired with numerous photographs, newspaper articles, a model of the DC-3 and a pilot's manual, all pertaining to the era portrayed. The next display rotation will feature United’s “Post War Growth, 1946-1958”.
In addition to the stewardess/flight attendant uniforms, Phyllis Jack and the team have acquired various uniforms representative of the pilot, ticket and customer service agent, mechanic and ramp service professions. Jack advises that they are really in need of information on pilot uniforms to help them identify when they were worn. They are also seeking co-pilot, flight engineer and navigator uniforms even if the trousers are worn and shiny. Male flight attendant uniforms are being sought from 1970s to present and those of the Hawaiian stewards from 1950 to 1990.
Laura has been a UAHF volunteer for four years, Janet has been with the team for a year and Phyllis, who started two years ago, states “We all really look forward to unpacking the treasures retirees send us as it gives us a broader view of what was and is United Airlines.”