American Airlines

The Creation of American Airlines

"On April 15, 1926, a young, then-unknown aviator named Charles Lindbergh flew sacks of U.S. mail from Chicago's Maywood Air Mail Field to Lambert-St. Louis Flying Field, via Peoria and Springfield. He was working for Robertson Aircraft Corporation, one of several fledgling companies that eventually combined to form American Airlines. And you might say that on that day, as he landed his de Havilland DH-4B biplane in St. Louis (eight minutes ahead of schedule), Lindbergh put an exclamation point on the first sentence of the future American Airlines story. It seems almost miraculous that this ragtag operation connecting a patchwork of scattered cities - flying planes purchased from army salvage - evolved over time into what we think is the world's best airline. That it did is a tribute to the men and women who dreamed big and took risks to lay the groundwork for American Airlines and today's modern aviation system."  -Donald J. Carty-

American Airways did not actually start in Cincinnati, but my friend, Ron Davies wrote in his Book "Airlines of the United States Since 1914" that the inspiration may be said to have originated in Cincinnati.  This was because of American's relationship with Embry-Riddle.  American Airways got a late start in the business because they weren't backed by solid capital as some of the others were. It was 1929 when the capital came and American Airways of New York NY began  during 1930 including these subsidiaries:

  • Colonial Air Transport [separate from 1942 Colonial Airlines]

  • Embry-Riddle

  • Interstate Airways

  • Martz Air Lines

  • Robertson Airlines

  • Southern Air Transport

  • Universal Aviation

Robertson Aircraft Corporation is the oldest predecessor in the American Airlines family tree. It was formed under laws of the State of Missouri in February of 1921 with only $15,000.00 in capital. Maj. William B. Robertson, his brother Frank and H. H. Perkins organized the Company and built or reassembled more than 450 Standards, Curtiss Jennys and DeHavilland DH-4's. The business was very successful and when Post Office mail route CAM 2 was available for bid; it was awarded to Robertson. It was this route that Lindbergh flew on 15 April 1926 from Chicago to St. Louis.

Colonial Air Transport, started by wealthy New England Investors, Governor John H. Trumbull of Connecticut, banker W. Irving Bullard of Boston and William A. Rockefeller.  Colonial was incorporated as early as 1923, but stayed inactive until it bid on mail route CAM 1 from New York to Boston. Mail and Express service began 18 June 1926 using Curtiss Larks. Passenger Service began on 4 April 1927. This flight 6 passengers between Boston and New York City.  Colonial's fleet included two Fokker Universals and two Fokker F-VII Tri-Motor aircraft.

Two years later on June 14th, 1929 another American Predecessor named Universal Aviation Corporation operated the first coast to coast rail to air to rail service in cooperation with New York Central Railroad in the East and Sante Fe Railroad in the West.  Fredrick Coburn was appointed president of American Airways and began to simplify routes and operations—its routes at that time went no further west than El Paso. Many subdivisions (flying schools, aircraft sales, air taxis, etc) were dissolved when it was thought that those would not be good sources of revenue.

St. Tammany-Gulf Coast Airways, Inc. had been incorporated in New Orleans, Louisiana with $85,000.00 in capital. This airline started passenger service from New Orleans to Atlanta via Mobile and Birmingham on 20 August 1927.  CAM 23 was awarded to them and was begun 1 May 1928 using mostly Fokker aircraft. 

Colonial Western Airways, Inc. started passenger, mail and express service on the route, Cleveland, Erie, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, Schenectady terminating at Albany on 17 December 1927. This was CAM 20 and it was fairly successful carrying good mail loads, but only 850 passengers in its first year.

Founded by a bus operator from Ft. Worth, Texas Air Transport was founded on 12 November 1927. Temple Brown inaugurated CAM 21 passenger and mail service from Galveston to Dallas and CAM 22 Brownsville to Dallas on 6 February 1928 using 7 Pitcairn Mailwings.

Embry-Riddle Company was a fixed base operator at Cincinnati Lunken started in 1925 by T. Higbeen Embry and John Paul Riddle.  They started out with only $10,000.00 in capital.  CAM 24 between Cincinnati and Chicago was put up for bid in July 1927 and won by Embry-Riddle. They started  mail, express and passenger service on 17 December 1927 with Waco 10 biplanes making 3 daily round trips.

Paul R. Braniff, Inc. was organized in May of 1928 by brothers Paul and Tom Braniff backed  by two Oklahoma oil companies.  They had no mail contract, but started passenger service on 20 June 1928 using four Stinson Detroiters. 

Gulf Air Lines  started in October 1928. It had largely New Orleans investors with $225,000.00 capital as a holding company.  St. Tammany was dropped from the name and CAM 29 opened to Houston on 23 January 1929.

Canadian Colonial, Universal, Continental, Northern, Interstate, Central, Southern, Colonial and Finally Universal Aviation Corp. All these airlines became American Airways which then bought Standard from Western Air Express before changing it's name to American Airlines.

These were directly under control of American Airways, except Embry-Riddle.  American Airways was controlled by Aviation Corporation (AVCO) at this time, but soon all subsidiary companies were dissolved, leaving AVCO the sole owner.

American's Divisions and bases were Universal Aviation at St. Louis, MO, Colonial Air Transport at Newark, NJ, Southern Air Transport at Fort Worth, TX and AVCO was the main holding company in New York, NY. American Airways was  controlled  by Aviation Corporation (AVCO) at this time. All the subsidiary companies soon went out of business, making AVCO the sole owner.

It was January 25, 1930 when Universal Aviation Corporation, Colonial Airways, Inc, Aviation Corp., and Southern Air Transport, Inc. (all holding companies)  were merged to become American Airways which is the original name of today's American Airlines. This consolidation allowed the first air service from coast to coast. Inauguration of the service was October 15, 1930 using a Fokker F-10A tri motor. The flight was from Atlanta via Texas and Arizona to Los Angeles. American operated the Fairchild Pilgrim 10A in 1931. The Pilgrim was the first transport aircraft built strictly to American's specifications. Later in 1931, American would operate Ford Tri-Motor aircraft on the first transcontinental New York to Los Angeles route.  

1932: Acquired Century Airlines. 

The 18 passenger Curtiss Condor began operations with American in 1933.  A year later, American introduced a sleeper version of the Condor on May 5th, 1934.  This airplane was the first airplane to have Stewardesses (now flight attendants).  American was now able to introduce the first true in-flight meal service. It would be a year later to see the  first hot meal served on an airliner.

There was a reorganization of American Airways was in 1934 and on April 11 it became American Airlines, Inc.  A month later on May 13, 1934,  the famous C. R.  Smith was elected president of American. He remained the President of American except for a brief interruption during World War II when he served as Deputy Commander of the Air Transport Command, until 1968 when he was named Secretary of Commerce by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Smith; like Johnson was a native Texan.

American operated the very first Douglas DC-3 flight from Chicago to New York on June 25th, 1936. The now ubiquitous DC-3 was the the first passenger aircraft that could operate profitably by only carrying passengers.  The DC-3 was designed and built to American specifications and was operated both as a 14 passenger sleeper known as the DST (Douglas Sleeper Transport) or as a 21 passenger airliner.

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