A Southwest Side Story

The Perfect Mascot Cycle: Creation through Retirement

One of the coolest things about Olympus’s refurbishment department is that we see mascots from all across the globe. However, the mascots in this story are from a company that makes travel possible in the first place, Southwest Airlines.

Southwest Airlines has 2 main mascots, “T.J. Luv” who is modeled after the iconic gold livery of Southwest’s planes from 1971 – 2001, and “Spirit”, who took over for T.J. when Southwest updated their livery to a blue color scheme in 2001.

T.J. Luv the mascot
T.J. Luv
Spirit Jr. the mascot

In public, both airplanes would often be accompanied by several smaller waist-wearable costume planes. T.J.’s accompanying mascot fleet was golden brown, and Spirit was accompanied by a fleet of blue. Both mascots were used extensively, and they attended several marketing events and grand openings like any corporate mascot would. However, the lore behind their creation goes much deeper than one might expect. In fact, T.J. traces his origins back to a character from a children’s story book. But before we get into that, we need to talk about the beginning of Southwest Airlines.

Texas-sized Tomfoolery

Back in the 1960s the state of Texas was primarily dominated by three major airlines. Given the lack of competition in the market, flying in and out of Texas was rather expensive and inconvenient. Rollin King, a recently graduated businessman, approached Herb Kelleher, a lawyer, in a San Antonio hotel. Rollin theorized that this stronghold on Texas’s airline industry left a segment of the market underserved. This segment could be capitalized on, but it would require something that hadn’t been done in over 25 years. Rollin wanted Herb to help him start an airline.

“You’re crazy” Herb initially replied, but after some further convincing, He finally said, “Let’s do it”. With those three words Air Southwest Co. was born.

Texas is the 2nd biggest state in the USA, with major cities quite far from each other. Driving between them takes several hours, even without traffic. This distance is just far enough for people to consider booking a flight instead. However, these short flights within the “Texas Triangle” were still quite expensive for most people.

Rollin and Herb were able to make these flights cheap using two cost-saving measures. The first, exclusively operating one type of airplane and the second, limiting their flights to Texas alone. By keeping all of their flights in-state, they were exempt from price controls and regulation by the federal Civil Aeronautics Board. Unfortunately, this new competition made Texas’ existing airlines rather angry, and they took legal action against the newcomer. After 4 long years of legal battles in both the Supreme Court of Texas and the Supreme Court of the United States, King and Kelleher came out victorious. On June 18, 1971, Southwest officially started operations as a fully operational airline!

The Texas Triangle, text over a map of Texas
Driving between cities in the Texas Triangle can take anywhere from 3 to 5 hours depending on traffic.

T.J. Luv’s Origins

As we mentioned previously, T.J. originates from a children’s book called Gumwrappers and Goggles by Winifred Barnum-Newman. This book follows the story of an unwanted airplane approached by a pilot and a lawyer. The duo have big dreams of starting an airline, and want T.J. to be their first plane. In order to get started they need permission from “the Grand-Chancellor of Air-affairs and Bailiwicks” who rules over the “Most High Court of the Air Kingdom”. In the meantime, T.J. gets moved to a new airport, where he was bullied by two larger airplanes, who promptly went to the Grand-Chancellor to claim that T.J. was stealing their business. T.J. was worried, but a magically fairy told T.J. to have “integrity” and show everyone his spirit.

The pilot, the lawyer, and T.J. were quickly summoned to the High Court, where the lawyer vehemently defended T.J. day after day. The outcome of the High Court case looked bleak, until T.J. spoke up. With all eyes on him, and the high-court’s decision only moments away, he delivered a speech that made everyone’s jaws drop, “I want to continue to carry businesspeople to and from big cities. I want to give them good service, make their flights smooth, and love, your Honor, I want to give love!” As T.J. spoke his paint began to turn gold, his belly became red, and his tail revealed a red and orange stripe. In one swift motion they granted T.J. the right to fly, and T.J. went on to spread Luv with the pilot and lawyer by his side! While no specific brand names are mentioned in the book, it’s pretty clear that the story of T.J. Luv is directly inspired by Southwest’s origin story.

In the early 1980’s Southwest was looking for interesting marketing ideas. One idea was creating a company musical. The musical would be an operatic interpretation of Gumwrappers and Goggles, and would require a dedicated cast willing to travel. Seeing the idea as a fun way to gather media attention, it was given the go ahead. The marketing team got to work, and what followed was the assembly of 16 cast members and the creation of a real-life T.J. Luv…

Thus, was born the mascot version of T.J. Luv, the plump Golden Jet with a red belly and Luv in his heart!
The Book "Gumwrappers and Goggles" by Winifred Barnum-Newman
Southwest's "Show Your Spirit" musical flyer from 1983.
 In 1983 Southwest’s Show Your Spirit musical started touring the nation. It ran from August 1983 – March 1984 in over 30 cities

Once the tour was over, T.J. was left without a purpose. The musical may have been over, but the show was only beginning. Business for Southwest Airlines was picking around the country. Throughout the mid 80’s Southwest was working hard to expand their flight offerings throughout the United States. Many of these expansions would require Southwest to open new stations at major airports. The grand opening of a new station is a big deal, and T.J. would be sent over with his crew of golden airplanes to make an appearance.

T.J. continued to attend Grand Openings and company events for several years, however he took a quick break in 1989 to star in Southwest’s “Just Plane Fun Shuffle” music video.

The Late 90’s Redesign

As the years went on, T.J. flew from location to location spreading Luv across the country. One day he’d be at a giant St. Patrick’s Day parade in Chicago and the next day he’d be making Ronald McDonald House visits in Dallas. It became a right off passage for interns to don the mascot costume at least once, especially if you were on the marketing team. All the travelling and appearances did a number on the original T.J. mascot costume though. So in the late-90’s Southwest asked Olympus to produce a new T.J. mascot.

One of the Very first pictures of Southwest's T.J. Luv Mascot. Here he is in front of a Boeing 737
The Original T.J. Luv mascot had fur that was a dark gold color and had a pale face with pink cheeks.
Southwest Airline's T.J. Luv on Display
The redesigned T.J. Luv mascot has a brighter gold than the previous version. His pale face was removed to make room for a bigger mouth and his cheeks were now a rosy, red color.

The redesigned T.J. served the same role as the original and was eventually semi-retired in 2001 when Southwest changed their fleet’s livery to a blue color scheme. Even though T.J. was officially replaced by Southwest’s new mascot, Spirit, he attended several big events during the early 2000’s. Funnily enough, all the events T.J. attended were logged inside T.J. himself!

The disassembled T.J. Mascot
The Inside of Southwest's mascot with several names, dates, and locations.
He may have been semi-retired, but he was still traveling all over the place.

The Retirement

By 2014, both T.J. and Spirit were now fully retired and stayed tucked away in Southwest’s Headquarters. Many of the company’s executives that had worked alongside T.J. and Spirit were now retiring as well. Both mascot costumes stayed in long-term storage, while each mascot’s accompanying fleet of small planes were spread around several regional offices. The small planes would occasionally make an appearance at a local office party or get together, but the T.J. and Spirit mascot costumes would rarely ever see the light of day. Sure, their legacy would live on through Southwest’s memorabilia and children’s activity books, but T.J. and Spirit would never appear in-person ever again…

Or would they?

Southwest’s headquarters can be found on their Dallas campus. The building is decorated with a plethora of archives, pictures, and artifacts obtained throughout Southwest’s history. There are tons of model airplanes, pieces of Boeing 737 history, and even an exact 1:1 replica of Herb Kelleher and Colleen Barrett’s office.

Colleen started working for Herb in the late 1960’s as his legal secretary. She rose through the company eventually becoming Southwest’s President in 2001. Around the office she is known as the “Mom” of Southwest Airlines! Colleen’s office is on the left and Herb’s is on the right.

Enter Samantha, one of Southwest’s dedicated Corporate Archivists. One day she was riffling through Southwest’s storage archives in preparation for their 52nd Anniversary. Deep in a back closet she found the storage boxes for T.J. and Spirit. Both mascots were in surprisingly good shape, and with a little touch-up, they would make great display pieces among the archives. She promptly hopped on the internet in search of someone who could return T.J. and Spirit to their former glory, and that is when she found us!

T.J. and Spirit were awesome mascots to work with and it’s always a pleasure to have a blast from the past. Seeing those signatures and dates inside T.J. warmed our hearts, and when we were all finished with fixing them up it was sad to see them go. Today, both T.J. and Spirit are used as exhibit pieces at Southwest’s headquarters located near Dallas Love Field. Because of the rarity of both costumes, they are only brought out for display on special occasions and a few holidays. However, when they are on display, you can expect to feel the Luv when you see them in person!

A big thank you to Samantha and Richard from Southwest’s Corporate Archive team for telling us all about the story of Southwest and the history of their mascots. If you want to read more about the company’s history, we highly recommend checking out Southwest’s blog. There is a large collection of aviation insights and hilarious stories that are worth reading. We recommend starting with, “Malice in Dallas”, which is best viewed on their archived YouTube channel.

Ah… the good ol’ days. Here are some of the highlights of T.J. and Spirit’s adventures!

As the manager of a multi-billion-dollar company’s mascots, we asked Samantha if she had any tips to share. Here are the biggest things she’s learned on the job:

Key Takeaways:

Tip 1

Ingrain your mascot into the company culture. Everyone at Southwest loves our mascots. There are plushies, stickers, magnets, all over our offices. When T.J. was introduced, he was adopted by people immediately, because he’s historical and adorable at the same time!


Tip 2

Your mascot can help define your company’s identity. We are an airline, so it makes sense that we have a plane. It separates us from the other businesses out there that have “Southwest” in their name but are in a completely different industry.

Tip 3

If your mascot is being transported a lot, it is worth investing in a sturdy box to put them in. T.J. and Spirit were nationwide travelers, and stayed in remarkable condition the whole time thanks to the boxes we moved them around in. Even when the costumes were sitting in storage, the box kept them safe from dust, sunlight, and damp conditions.

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