The Northwestern University Transportation Library is one of the largest transportation information centers in the world. Founded in 1958, the library maintains a collection of over 450,000 items encompassing information on all forms of transportation -air, rail, highway, pipeline and water - including urban transportation and logistics, and emphasizing the socio-economics aspects of transportation. In addition, the library maintains a significant collection on law enforcement, police management, and traffic enforcement materials. Its collection of environmental impact statements is one of the most complete in the world.
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.
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.
The paper copies of the menus range in size and complexity, but most are two-dimensional, two-sided, full color objects less than 11” x 17” in size. The collection was de-acidified in the summer of 2006 and the menus are currently housed in acid-free archival envelope and boxes.
Digitization of the menus was performed according to Northwestern University Library’s established standards for digital imaging: 600 dpi uncompressed TIFF 24-bit color for archival masters and JPEG2000 for delivery.
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.
The Northwestern University Library respects the intellectual property rights of others. These digitized menus have been made available solely for
non-commercial research, teaching and private study. Northwestern University has not sought the permission of the copyright holders to digitize menus and does not claim any copyright interest in these menus. Image viewing is mediated by a special server that allows only a low-resolution or a partial view of images. We believe this balanced delivery is permitted under the Fair Use provision (Section 107) of United States Copyright Law. Copyright holders wishing to request removal of images may contact Northwestern University's Copyright Agent. Users seeking permission to reuse images must contact the copyright holders directly. Northwestern will not provide copyright holder contact information, higher resolution images, or any permissions to reuse images in any context.
For further information regarding the Transportation Library Menu Collection, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
To read about Mr. Foster, please visit