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Transportation Library Menu Collection

Identifier: TL017

  • Staff Only
  • No requestable containers

Scope and Content note

In addition to the physical description of the menus, certain components of the records may be of special interest to researchers. From the transportation side, the record provides (if available) the flight’s origin; its destination; trip route; travel class; type of vessel and trip’s date.

From the menu’s contents, the record includes meals served on board, a listing of items on the menu, and a sampling of representative dishes.

In addition, the record includes the donor’s name and transcribed notes found on the menu regarding flight, service, food, and wine.

In 2016, menus from the Compagnie belge maritime du Congo were digitized and added to the finding aid. The original menus reside in the Herskovits Library of African Studies.


  • 1928-present

Language of Materials

English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Japanese

Conditions Governing Access

Restricted. To inquire about access to this collection, please contact the Transportation Library at or (847) 491-5273.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers wishing to review physical collection must contact the Transportation Library at (847) 491-5273 for appointment.

Collection History

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.

In a 2006 letter to then Head of Transportation Library, Roberto Sarmiento, Mr. Foster reflected on why he created the menu collection and its significance. Though the letter remains unfinished due to Mr. Foster's passing, it provides a glimpse into his early fascination with air travel and how he "began near the beginning."

Mr. Foster's first commercial flight was in fall 1935, when he traveled on a United Airlines B-247 from Oakland, California, to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Though the flight lasted longer than ten hours due to multiple pick-ups along the way, it was a breeze compared to the other travel option, a thirty-six hour train ride. At this point in time, Mr. Foster did not yet realize how this experience would become one in a lifetime of flying.

In 1945, Mr. Foster flew non-stop from Mexico City to Los Angeles in a DC-4 and returned a few weeks later on a DC-3 which doubled the air travel time. Mr. Foster’s first trans-Atlantic flight and seemingly first experience with hot airplane meals was with Trans World Airlines (TWA) in fall 1948 to Santa Maria and Lisbon, Portugal, and finally to Madrid, Spain. His return flight on a TWA DC-4 took almost twenty-eight hours to reach New York City.


381 Packages


381 historic airline, ocean liner, and railroad menus, dating from 1928 to the present.

Organization of the Menus

The Transportation Library and Main University Library catalogers working from a MS Word item level description document devised an EAD-XML finding aid version of the collection. Additional work enhanced and corrected the description of each menu in XML, which allowed the possibility to derive item-level MARC records directly from the finding aid if desired.

Physical Location

Northwestern University Transportation Library, Evanston, Ill., Room 5320


Core collection as part of gift by George M. Foster. Additional donors include: Peter J. Devlin, Jeffrey B. Garrett, Renee A. Massoud, Karen Miller, Roberto A. Sarmiento, Jeremy Abbott, and Kristine A. Thorsen.

Separated material


Physical Description

381 menus from airlines, ocean liners, and railroads.


Tim Leonard

Guide to the Transportation Library Menu Collection
Tim Leonard
June-July, 2005
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
The finding aid is written in English

Library Details

Part of the Northwestern University Transportation Library Repository

Main Library, 5th Floor, North Tower
1970 Campus Drive
Evanston IL 60208-2300 US