United Airlines and Continental Airlines, although one company today, sprouted roots at Pearson Field in Vancouver. Likewise, so did the first airline magazine, Tails Spins. The magazine was written and illustrated by hand, reproduced using a mimeograph, put in an envelope and mailed. Today, we might call it a comic book or a ’zine.
First published in Portland, Tail Spins was the in-house publication for the Rankin Flying Service, started by the stunt pilot Tex Rankin, who taught flying at Pearson Field for about 18 months in the mid-1920s. The magazine spilled from the creative minds of the brother-and-sister duo Walt Bohrer, as illustrator and writer, and Ann Bohrer, as writer and editor.
Besides being pilots, Ann and Walt Bohrer were aviation writers. Both exhibited an irreverent sense of humor. The siblings’ effort emerged as America’s first humorous aviation magazine, published from 1927 through 1939. The magazine title flowed across the cover in the vapory, spiraling contrails of a tiny plane spinning off into the upper right corner. Although the image flowed horizontally, the magazine’s readers knew the aircraft was out of control, like the humor they’d find inside.
Above the title ran the words, “The monkey glands of aviation,” referencing a 1920s bogus medical procedure promising men rejuvenation, longer life, better memory and eyesight. Any revitalization the magazine promised was aimed at the reader’s funny bone. A 12-month subscription ran $1.50 ($26.20 in 2023) and included aviation news, gossip, humor and contributions by humorist Will Rogers and pilot Wiley Post, among other celebrities.
Eventually, many early airlines carried the Bohrers’ magazine as their first inflight magazine, including Northwest Airlines, Pennsylvania Central Airlines, KML-Royal Dutch Airlines and Imperial Airlines.
Ann and Walt Bohrer were editing Tail Spins in Cleveland when they went to nearby Painesville, Ohio, to meet Amelia Earhart, who was on a lecture tour raising funds for her 1937 world flight with Wiley Post. They gave the famous flier their first Eastern edition of Tale Spins. Earhart signed on as one of their charter subscribers.
When Adm. Richard Byrd had returned from his first polar expedition in 1930, Ann and Walt Bohrer went to hear him lecture in Cleveland. In her oral history, Ann Bohrer said, “Walt presented him the first copy of our Eastern version of Tale Spins.” She mentioned they had been his friend in the past and that he carried their magazine to the North and South Poles. The siblings also gathered up supplies for him that contained Pacific Northwest foods, including 100 pounds of Tillamook cheese.
As World War II approached, they published their magazine from Cleveland but went different ways before the conflict. Walt joined Rankin in California, now training pilots for the war effort, and Ann entered government work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Both Ann and Walt Bohrer were frequent contributors to the aviation press. Walt penned two biographies of Tex Rankin. Then he and Ann wrote three books together, in the same humorous vein as their magazine, Twenty Smiling Eagles, This is Your Captain Speaking! and Tales Up!
Martin Middlewood is editor of the Clark County Historical Society Annual. Reach him at ClarkCoHist@gmail.com.