In 1923, fate gave the experiments a new future. George Post, an executive of an Ogdensburg, New York, airplane manufacturer, was forced down in Tallulah when his plane developed mechanical problems. Post was so enthusiastic about the aerial crop dusting activities he discovered while in Tallulah that he convinced his company’s management to form a separate division -- the Huff Daland Dusters. Huff Daland Dusters started operations in 1924 at Macon, Georgia, but a lack of
experience and the small number of cotton fields in the area resulted in an unsuccessful first season. Dr. Coad, an interested observer from the Louisiana government laboratory, suggested the Dusters move there. Thus, in 1925 headquarters were established at Monroe, Louisiana.
On May 30, 1925, Woolman left the Agriculture Extension Service to take charge of Huff Daland’s entomological work as vice president and field manager. To the company he brought a genial personality, integrity and a stubborn resistance to failure -- traits which have endured at Delta. The parent company, Huff Daland Manufacturing in New York, built the first planes
ever specifically designed for dusting, and Huff Daland Dusters’ fleet became the largest privately-owned aircraft fleet in the world with 18 planes. The number soon grew to 25 small planes and some larger planes, called "Ton of Dust."
Since the dusting company had an income only during summer months, Woolman decided to shift operations during non-productive months to Peru where seasons are reversed. It was in Peru that Woolman first visualized the future of passenger service by air, and he successfully secured South American airmail rights over stiff competition to become the first American airline operator south of the equator in the western hemisphere. Service from Peru to Ecuador, a 1,500-mile route, was inaugurated in 1927.
Returning to Monroe in 1928, Woolman found the parent company, Huff Daland Manufacturing, attempting to sell the dusting division. He quickly aroused the interest of Monroe businessmen who purchased Huff Daland’s equipment. The company’s name was changed to Delta Air Service ("Delta" for the Mississippi Delta), with D.Y. Smith as the first president and Woolman retaining his title of vice president and general manager. Back in Peru, a revolution was erupting, and as the few planes and equipment remaining there attracted revolutionaries’ attention as military tools, Woolman sold his South American dusters in 1928 to a Peruvian firm. He sold the airmail route to Pan American Grace, forming the nucleus of Panagra.
The company’s U.S. dusting operations continued until 1966, but new undertakings were underway in 1928 as Delta Air Service purchased three five-passenger, 90-mile-per-hour Travel Air monoplanes. On June 17, 1929, over an original route that stretched from Dallas, Texas, to Jackson, Mississippi, with stops in Shreveport and Monroe, Louisiana, Delta
operated its first passenger flight. As additional planes were delivered from the factory, service was extended eastward to Birmingham, Alabama, and westward to Fort Worth, Texas.
This represented a bold financial venture since the route was operated without benefit of a mail contract, and revenue from airmail was needed to supplement passenger operating expenses. The year 1930 brought news that the Post Office Department had awarded the badly needed airmail contract for the Southern route to a rival airline. Dusting operations were expanded and Dr. Coad joined Delta as chief entomologist. In 1934, Delta had an opportunity to win back the route it had pioneered from
Dallas/ Ft. Worth to Birmingham as the Post Office cancelled all airmail contracts and called for new bids. Delta’s bid won the airmail contract for the route from Fort Worth to Charleston, South Carolina, via Atlanta. Delta’s first airmail flight on July 4, 1934, was flown by Stinson T aircraft. The planes were capable of carrying seven passengers and the mail at speeds of 100 miles per hour. From this point the airline’s climb to prominence in air transportation was firmly established.
While Delta was busy developing its Southern route, three other pioneer airlines, each destined to play key roles in Delta’s future, were developing: two in the West and one in the Northeast. Chicago and Southern Air Lines (C&S) became part of Delta through a merger in 1953. Northeast Airlines merged with Delta in 1972. Western Air Lines was merged into Delta in 1987.
Chicago and Southern’s founder, Carleton Putnam, began his career in law and politics before discovering aviation. While walking down a New York City street one day, he saw an airplane for sale and bought it. He arranged for flying lessons packaged as a cross-country flight, and by the time he reached California, Putnam had decided to try his hand in the field of air transportation. Putnam’s new airline, Pacific Seaboard Air Lines, made its first flight on June 25, 1933, without benefit of an airmail contract. Flying from Los Angeles along the seaboard route to San Francisco, the airline stopped at Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, Paso Robles, Salinas and Monterey.
In 1934, the Post Office Department’s call for new bids on all airmail routes gave Putnam hope for financial stability, and he sought one of these contracts. When his bid for the Chicago-New Orleans route won, he shifted operations to the Mississippi Valley. Putnam’s airline inaugurated mail service between Chicago and New Orleans via Memphis on June 3, 1934; passengers were first flown on July 13, 1934. In December 1935, the company name was changed to Chicago and Southern Air Lines. Meanwhile, the Northeast, Boston and Maine Airways, made its first flight on August 11, 1933, from Boston to Portland and Bangor, Maine, using eight-passenger Stinson T equipment. A subsidiary of the Boston and Maine Railroad Company, the carrier’s first flights were operated under contract by National Airways whose founders included Paul Collins, one of the country’s first airmail pilots; Samuel J. Solomon, a pioneer airport operator; Eugene Vidal, a West Point graduate; and Amelia Earhart, the famed aviatrix.
The first company headquarters were located in a hangar on a hay field at Scarboro, Maine, just south of the Portland Airport. At the end of the winter, a heated hangar became available in Boston, and headquarters were transferred there. In 1937, Boston and Maine purchased National Airways’ assets, including its airmail contract, and in November 1940, the airline was renamed Northeast Airlines. Western Air Express was incorporated on July 13, 1925. Harris Hanshue, first president and general manager, and Major Corliss Mosely, vice president and director of operations, bid for the new airmail route from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City and were granted the route in November 1925. The new airline’s first flight took the mail from
Los Angeles to Salt Lake City on April 17, 1926.
The first passengers were carried, riding on folding seats in the mail compartment, on May 3, 1926, from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles. Mail routes were expanded, and in May 1928 new passenger service was added between Los Angeles and San Francisco. On board, passengers were served meals prepared by a posh Los Angeles restaurant. By mid 1930, Western had the largest air system in the world, covering 16,000 miles with 40 aircraft. Fortunes took a sudden change in 1930 with the passage of the Watres Bill which forced a merger of the routes of Western and Transcontinental Air Transport. Western was left with only a few routes and the company payroll was cut by two-thirds. Still, Western kept flying its original Los Angeles to Salt Lake City route.
In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Western began to regroup by operating in conjunction with United Air Lines as "through" flights. National Park Airways became a part of Western in 1937, expanding the company into the Montana region.
The year 1941 saw Western Air Express change its name to Western Air Lines as passengers overtook postage as Western’s primary business. The year 1941 also brought a major change to Delta Air Lines as the company’s general offices and overhaul base were moved from Monroe to Atlanta. The year also brought the four young airlines -- Delta, C&S, Northeast and Western -- into World War II and a period when growth slowed, then stopped, as they directed their energies to the war effort. When the fighting stopped, the four airlines renewed their growth as their airplanes, personnel and passengers returned from the war.
Like many airlines in the early 1950s, C&S began to consider the prospect of a merger as a method of expanding its route system. With the complementary character of Delta and C&S’s combined route maps and the fact that both companies shared a common business philosophy, a merger appeared natural. On May 1, 1953, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) formally transferred the routes of Chicago and Southern to Delta Air Lines. The years following the merger saw new growth and strengthening of the company’s prominence in air transportation. Delta became a jet leader among the world’s airlines, becoming the first to introduce the DC-8 (in 1959), CV-880 (in 1960) and DC-9 (in 1965) to passenger service.
While Delta was setting the industry lead in jet service, Northeast, too, was busy introducing jets. In 1959 the airline became one of the first U.S. carriers offering Boeing 707 service when it began jet flights on the New York to Miami route.
In 1965, Storer Broadcasting Company purchased Northeast, and the next year the carrier acquired a new image as Northeast aircraft became known as Yellowbirds because of their new yellow and white exteriors. Yellowbird would become a household word in the area served.
In the late 1960s, Northeast received several new routes, but its financial problems failed to improve. It was these difficulties that led to the search for a merger partner, and on August 1, 1972, the merger between Delta and Northeast Airlines
became effective. Meanwhile, Western expanded its route system to the international destinations of Mexico City, Mexico, and Calgary, Canada, in the late 1950s. The airline’s jet age arrived in June 1959 when the first Western jet flew from Los Angeles to Seattle, and in July 1969, the long-sought California-Hawaii route was begun.
Delta’s route system expanded considerably in the 1970s, not only through the Northeast merger, but also through a series of route awards by the CAB. Delta’s first transatlantic route was inaugurated April 30, 1978, from Atlanta to London. The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 brought more changes virtually overnight than had been experienced in the entire 40 years the airlines spent under formal government regulation. Delta continued a steady, controlled growth amid the frenzied expansion of some competitors.
For Western, deregulation led to financial difficulties. In early 1984, Western was losing one million dollars a day and its future looked bleak. But by 1985, the airline made nearly a $100 million turnaround. On September 9, 1986, Delta and Western announced a merger agreement providing for Delta’s acquisition of Western. Operations of the two airlines were merged April 1, 1987. In 1991, Delta acquired the transatlantic routes of a bankrupt Pan Am and became a major provider of service across the Atlantic.
Delta demonstrated it’s pioneering spirit once again in June 1993 by establishing international code sharing. By combining with other airlines around the globe, service has expanded to include more than 350 cities in over 55 countries. In 1998, Delta made aviation history by carrying over 105 million passengers, breaking the company's previous record of 103 million set in 1997. With 70 years of experience and a renewed commitment to customer satisfaction, Delta now aims to be the best airline in the world..