Commercial Aviation from the 1920’s-1930
The start of scheduled passenger services in the United States was not known,
according to Roger Bilstein an aviation historian. Passengers were transported
by Silas Christofferson via hydroplane from San Francisco to Oakland harbors in
1913. A Benoist flying boat successfully flew passengers from Tampa to St.
Petersburg, Florida in 1914.
Lawson C-2 was the first multiengine airplane designed for commercial air
travel. Alfred W. Lawson built it in 1919. Since there are cheaper military
airplanes available the Lawson C-2 did not become successful. Lawson built
another model called L-4; this can carry 34 passengers and about 6,000 pounds of
mail. It crashed on its test flight and discouraged the development of large
Inglis Uppercu a Florida entrepreneur began scheduled international passenger
flights in 1920, initially from Key West, Florida to Havana, Cuba. Soon other
routes were added such as, between Miami and the Bahamas, between New York and
Havana. There is also a Midwest, between Cleveland, Ohio, and Detroit, Michigan.
His company was named “Aeromarine airways” it has 15 flying boats and made
2,000+ flights with 10,000 passengers. A plane crash killing four people made
Aeromarine Airways lose business in 1924.
The birth of U.S. commercial air transportation and United Airlines was when
Walter T. Varney began contract airmail services from Pasco, Washington, and
Elko, Nevada, through Boise, Idaho.
Seven years after the first official airmail flight, 1925, U.S. Post Office
airplanes sent 14 million letters, packages a year. Airmail was very popular
with bankers and businessmen.
It was in 1926 when Air Commerce Act was implemented, this authorized the
Secretary of Commerce to plan air routes, build up air navigation systems, test
and license pilots and aircrafts, and investigate accidents. The carriers were
then obliged by law to base pay to the weight of mail. This all started with the
appointment of Dwight Morrow to develop a national aviation policy.
In the 1920s, Harry Guggenheim a multimillionaire and aviation enthusiast
started a foundation, which aims on teaching aeronautical engineers and
developing flight instruments. He gave funding to the Western Air Express to
check if airlines can live on passenger fares alone, but the company barely made
enough money without airmail.
Investments in aviation stocks significantly rose between 1927 and 1929. This
was brought about by Charles A. Lindbergh’s solo flight to Paris.
Travelers could cross the country faster by train than by air at the end of
1920s. It was not comfortable to travel by plane because of the un-insulated
thin sheets of metal that made noise in the wind. The cabins were not
pressurized. In spite of this, airline passengers in the U.S. grew in number
from 6,000 to 173,000 in the span of 1926 to 1929. Majority were businessmen.
U.S. Airlines’ planes have enough capacity for 15 passengers. Fuselage has a
corrugated design and the plane depends on a Ford Trimotor 5-AT.
In the 1920s, manufacturers transferred near airports. There were aeronautical
schools that taught airplane engineering, design, and operation. New
technologies were being developed that gave potential for commercial aviation
Harry Guggenheim set up a full flight laboratory, which developed very helpful
navigational tools like the barometer, artificial horizon and gyroscope and
radio direction beacon for landing. In September 1929 James Doolittle a U.S.
army lieutenant benefited from these tools when he had to land the plane without
Huge progress as it may seem still did not make passenger travel exclusive
airlines profitable up to the 1930’s.