Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service


Archived exhibitions are no longer available for booking but are maintained as a virtual record of past Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) programs.


Looping the Loop: Posters of Early Flight

There are no islands anymore!" exclaimed British witnesses to Louis Blériot's historic crossing of the English Channel in 1909 on his fragile 25-horsepower monoplane. That prescient observation was soon confirmed, as no other form of transportation made every corner of the earth reachable by humankind.

With 32 oversized posters, Looping the Loop: Posters of Early Flight chronicles modern aviation from its earliest inception of balloons and dirigibles (airships) to mono- and biplanes. Created primarily to stimulate public attendance at air meets, these vibrant graphics convey the romance and excitement of flying from its infancy to the beginning of World War I.

Even before the Wright brothers' success at Kitty Hawk in 1903, Europeans and Americans had already embraced flight in terms of balloons and dirigibles. One of the earliest French posters in the exhibition dates from 1875 and advertises a fair with a free balloon ride.

Between 1908 and 1914, cities lured the biggest names in aviation to their air meets with large monetary prizes as well as elaborate publicity. To promote the cities hosting the aerial events, posters often depicted planes soaring over well-known landmarks.

As the general population became entranced by flight, advertisers appropriated aviation imagery as potent symbols of progress, modernity, and romance to sell their products. A poster for Edouard Besserat Champagne shows a pilot greeted by well-wishers holding a celebratory bottle.

Divided into four sections, Looping the Loop presented a mostly chronological view of the development of flight. The exhibition drew heavily from the scholarship of Henry Serrano Villard (1900-1996). When his family moved to France in 1912, Villard joined the Société Générale Aéronautique, frequented local airfields, and met many of the most daring pilots of the day. A selection of rare personal mementos such as air meet tickets, Aero Club membership cards, and a small sketch are included in the exhibition.

All of the posters and Villard materials in Looping the Loop were from the collection of the Allen Airways Flying Museum in El Cajon, California. The exhibition was curated by Joanne Gernstein London, of the National Air and Space Museum.

Looping the Loop was made possible in part through the generous support of Willis and Claudia Allen and the Allen Airways Flying Museum.

This Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service exhibition toured from 2000-2002.



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