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TWA2271 Brian Akers

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TWA HISTORY

About TWVA

"The Formative Years" 1925 - 1928"

The real tap root of air transportation in the United States was carrying mail by air. The seed from which the root grew was sown in 1911. In that year as a demonstration, a Curtiss plane took off with a single sack of mail as cargo and a very jittery Postmaster General Hitchcock as passenger.

A few years after World War I,, United States Army flyers blazed the first sky trail around the world, following an air path that TWA and other airlines were to follow later in regularly scheduled service. In the mean time, the seed of air mail sown in 1911 had grown into a regular service.

In 1922 Herbert Hoover, then Secretary of Commerce, called an "Air Industry Congress" in Washington D.C. Out of it came the idea that air mail should be carried by private companies operating airlines under contract with the Government. The next year, Congress passed the Kelly Act. It authorized letting air mail contracts on a bid basis. This was the first practical recognition by our Government of commercial aviation and air transportation. The act was not only a challenge to American industry to provide the ingenuity and initiative to carry the mails but also the doors through which Government would walk out of the air mail business and private enterprise walked in.

Western Air Express, a TWA predecessor company, was organized during 1925 and obtained a LAX-SLC mail & passenger route. It began operations April 17 thereby becoming the first scheduled commercial route flown in this country. In 1928 it began service from San Diego to Los Angeles and on to San Francisco.

Technically, Western Air Express was born on July 13, 1925, when articles of incorporation were filed in Sacramento, California, but airlines traditionally mark inaugural service with their first flight. Western first took to the skies on April 17, 1926. On that day, two members of Western's original quartet of pilots inaugurated mail service from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City where the mail was turned over to Postmaster P.P. O'Brien. The newly formed airline won it's first government contract just nine months after Congress passed the "Kelly Act." Five weeks after initial service was started the new airline carried it's first passengers. Ben Redmond of Salt Lake City purchased ticket No.1.

 

"Coast to Coast in 48 Hours -- 1929"

The conception of a transcontinental system of transportation which would combine railroads and airplanes in a service to reduce by at least half the time required by an air mail journey from the Atlantic to the Pacific Coast occurred in the dawn of the renaissance of commercial aviation in 1927. The idea was generally common property among persons who were then giving serious consideration to the practical employment of the airplane. Both East and West coast men in aviation were talking and discussing the problem. The Pennsylvania Railroad officials were the first to establish relations with an important aviation group. After a period of preliminary discussions, a working agreement with the Curtiss-Keys aviation group was drawn up. The Atchison, Topeka and Sante Fe was invited into the group to form the western rail link to which a new company name was born "Transcontinental Air Transport".

Mr. Keys and his associates put the task of building up the idea of air rail into young and enthusiastic hands. This group of young men went to work on a herculean task with spirit and determination !!! The obtaining of airport sites, selection and testing of equipment, the formation of flying and ground personnel, coordinating rail and air schedules, building of air stations, air depots, terminals and weather stations !!! All of this was a mammoth undertaking and with proper prodding from the young enthusiastic backers and their chief, Charles A. Lindbergh, who served the line as chairman of the technical committee the system was at last ready for operation and on July 8th 1929, Secretary of Commerce Robert P Lamont pressed a button in his Washington office signaling the take-off of the first Ford Tri-Motor carrying ten passengers and with that TAT was a reality.

Through this unique service, westbound passengers would go overnight by train from New York City to Columbus, Ohio where they boarded a TAT airliner to St. Louis, Kansas City and Waynoka, Oklahoma, back on a train to Clovis, New Mexico, and back in the air, on to Los Angeles, CA.

 

The Merger -- 1930

With the Airmail Act of 1930, came a change in the way the United States Postal Service awarded postal contracts. No longer would there be competitive bidding. Instead, payment was based on the payload weight and miles flown. Companies with larger aircraft were often awarded contracts over those with smaller planes. This caused many companies to purchase larger aircraft and in many cases caused smaller companies to enter into merger agreements. Such was the case with Western Air Express and Transcontinental Air Transport who merged in 1930 to form T&WA.

 

The Howard Hughes Years 1939 - 1965

In 1939 Howard Hughes had gained controlling interest in the company, now called TWA, with seventy-five percent its shares. Mainly due to Hughes' popularity, TWA experienced tremendous growth, and because of his influence, the carrier was able to obtain the better domestic and international routes.

TWA's growth after WWII can be attributed to Howard Hughes' control over the company, but by the mid fifties, things began to decline. Hughes, in a quest to bring TWA into the Jet Age, was buying aircraft that the company could not afford to pay for (130 Boeing 707's at $300M) and as a result, TWA began to have financial problems. Stockholders began to worry, and several attempts were made to persuade Hughes to stop. Hughes continued and stockholders filed suit. In 1961 Hughes, as a result of the lawsuit, had to pay $137M to TWA, but was back in court with the stockholders by 1965. This time, Hughes was ordered to sell his shares of TWA at a hefty $500M. In a twist of fate, TWA became the first airline in America to boast an all jet fleet.

 

The Beginning of the End -- The 1970's

Although Trans World Airlines managed to stay alive for a very long time thereafter, the end of TWA really began in the seventies with the badly slumping economy. Fuel prices were high, due to the "energy crisis," and seats were abundant. Things would only get worse. Ironically, it was because of TWA's positioning in 1978 when the government de-regulated the airline industry. By developing the "hub and spoke" system, and devising a domestic and international route base that made TWA a financially viable airline, it had also become a prime target for a hostile takeover.

 

The Turbulent 80's and 90's

Operating a wide array of domestic and international routes, TWA proved an attractive target. In 1985, corporate raider Carl Icahn beat out Frank Lorenzo to win controlling interest in the airline. Icahn took the company private in 1988, a move which burdened the airline with $540 million in debt. To offset its financial troubles, Icahn began selling off TWA's routes to other airlines. The losses continued, though. In 1992, the airline filed for bankruptcy, but managed to continue to stay afloat. In early 2001, TWA - the airline which began life as Transcontinental Air Transport 71 years earlier - was finally sold to American Airlines.