MIAMI – If you travel by air, chances are you have heard of Delta Air Lines (DL). Often shorthanded simply as Delta, the airline has proven that it is a force to be reckoned with.
The general public typically has come to expect a certain level of quality when flying on the widget. But they probably are not aware that their cushy business class seat they just settled got its start in 1925.
The airline started as a rag-tag crop-dusting company and has grown 95 years into the global carrier that Delta is today.
Huff Daland Dusters, Inc.
Huff Daland Dusters, Inc., founded in Macon, Georgia, and shortly after moving to Monroe, Louisiana, laid the foundation for Delta Air Lines as the first aerial crop dusting company in the world.
The company flew a self-named purpose-built crop duster, the Huff Daland Duster, to protect cotton crops against the Boll Weevil, an insect infesting the South’s major economic asset.
The dusting business really began to pick up. A man from Louisiana State University’s Agricultural Department, C.E. Woolman, joined the ranks as the company’s chief entomologist. Delta had its first CEO.
With Woolman at the helm, Huff Daland continues to grow. By 1927, the company was dusting in states as far out as California, and internationally in Mexico and Peru.
While crop dusting was keeping the lights on for Huff Daland, Woolman had a greater vision for the company. In 1928, he negotiated an airline concession and an airmail contract in Peru.
The first passenger service flight took place in September 1928 on board a Fairchild FC-2 from Lima to Talara. The route stopped four times along the way.
However, the service only lasted two months. In November of the same year, Huff Daland’s air service permits went to Peruvian Airways Corp., a partner of Pan American Airways.
This might have looked like a setback for the little airline that could. But in reality, it just set the ball rolling to bigger and better things back in the United States.
Delta Air Service
In December of 1928, an investor team lead by C.E. Woolman and Travis Oliver (a banker from Mobile) purchased the assets of Huff Daland Dusters. The new company incorporated as Delta Air Service.
It took about six months to get the new iteration of the company ready for service. On June 17, 1929, Delta operates its first American passenger flight from Dallas, Texas, to Jackson, Mississippi. It flew via Shreveport and Monroe on the five-passenger Travel Air S-6000-B for the journey.
Passenger service ran for over a year. In October 1930, Delta lost the bid to carry airmail and suspended all passenger service. It was a major blow.
A company that would go on to become American Airlines purchased Delta Air Service’s assets. The Delta leadership team was left to pick up the pieces.
Delta Air Corporation
The commercial airmail contract was the lifeblood of any fledgling airline back then. Losing this was truly detrimental to the company.
Fortunately, Delta was in good hands with Woolman and Oliver. Consequently, the company was able to lick its wounds and jump back in the ring just a month later.
In a move that looked back to its roots, Oliver re-acquired the old crop dusting assets. and so, Delta Air Corporation incorporated in Louisiana on New Year’s Eve.
Delta limped along through the remainder of the Great Depression by crop dusting, flying aerial surveys, and offering flight training. It also carried out ground-based operations such as aircraft repair/overhaul and managing the airport itself.
This was the new normal for the company for several years. However, Delta’s tenacity was rewarded in 1934 when the U.S. Post Office held re-bids for all airmail contracts.
Delta Air Lines
With a winning bid of 24.8¢ per pound, Delta was awarded the airmail route from Ft. Worth, Texas, to Charleston, South Carolina.
The service began on July 4, 1934. Passenger service resumed as well on August 5, and Delta began doing business for the first time as Delta Air Lines.
Delta faced a lot of highs and lows during its first decade of existence. Yet, it came out strong, operating under a name that would go on to become one of the most recognizable in the industry.
Delta continued to grow through the years, and set many firsts for airlines in the U.S., securing its place in the history books.