The Menu Collection of the Northwestern University Transportation Library currently includes more than 400 menus from 54 national and international airline carriers, cruise ships, and railroad companies, with coverage from 1929 to the present. U.S. airlines predominate, but European, Asian, African, Australasian, and South American companies are also represented, with particular strength from the 1960s to the late 1980s.
This collection is multi-disciplinary in scope: it touches art, history, economics, sociology, culinary, and transportation topics. Because of its strength in mid- to late-20th century air transportation, the collection presents an invaluable picture of the history of commercial air travel. This collection would be of interest to transportation researchers and historians, culinary historians, sociologists, and travel aficionados.
The collection began as a gift from Northwestern alumnus George M. Foster who donated his extensive menu collection to the Transportation Library in 1997, where it has since been expanded from other sources.
During his seven decades as a pioneering anthropologist and consultant to international agencies including the World Health Organization and UNICEF, Mr. Foster traveled the globe by airplane, train, and steamship. The menus he collected on his trips preserve a glimpse of an era—now presumably forever past—in which fine dining and fine wines were considered an essential aspect of passenger comfort, and in fact constituted a significant aspect of travel’s mystique and allure. The value of Mr. Foster’s collection resides not only in its volume, but in the number of his hand-written comments regarding flight dates, airplane types, and food and wine ratings and descriptions.
Just before his death in May, 2006, at the age of 92, Mr. Foster began a letter to Transportation Library head Roberto Sarmiento in which he intended to collect his thoughts about the significance of the menu collection. The letter was never finished, but was forwarded by his son Jeremy Foster after his father’s death, and it preserves his recollections of his first commercial flight in 1935—still vividly recalled in startling detail more than 70 years later.