"Aviation is essentially a young man's industry…it has the romance, the adventure…It's future however, lies in something entirely different…The cost to lift and carry a pound of pay load is the secret of the future." Colonel Lewis H. Brittin, Northwest's energetic and farsighted founder, who led the airline from 1926-1934
Northwest Airways took off in 1926, with a couple of rented biplanes, carrying sacks of mail and the hopes of 11 employees and 29 investors. By the time it merged with Delta in 2008, Northwest Airlines carried the most passengers across the Pacific and was a top cargo carrier in the United States. As it grew, Northwest pioneered—a northern route to Asia, all-cargo jet operations, a global alliance and other industry "firsts."
Northwest Airways takes to the sky, carrying air mail from the Twin Cities to Chicago with a "fleet" of two rented, open-cockpit biplanes-a Thomas Morse Scout and a Curtiss Oriole
Northwest develops the first practical aviation oxygen mask, making possible high-altitude flying over the Rocky Mountains.
The "Red Tail" is painted on all Northwest aircraft for the first time, creating a trademark that becomes known world-wide and that continues in use almost 50 years later.
Northwest voluntarily becomes the first airline to operate without government subsidy on trans-Pacific and United States-Alaska routes.
Northwest begins "fastest U.S. jet service to Asia" with Douglas DC8 aircraft, the airline's first "pure jet."
Northwest is honored for noise abatement leadership by the National Organization to Ensure a Sound-Controlled Environment.
Northwest is the first airline approved by FAA to install coordinated flight crew training.
Northwest bans smoking on all North American flights, the first major U.S. airline to do so.
Northwest and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines launch the world's first airline alliance, with joint, twice-weekly flights between Minneapolis/St. Paul and Amsterdam.
Northwest is the first major airline to deploy compact self-service kiosks for the convenience of customers using electronic ticketing.
First major carrier to offer Internet check-in on its website.
Northwest officially merges with Delta on October 29. Single operations begin in January 2009.
To learn more about the airline's 82 years of achievement and its affiliated airlines—Hughes Airwest, North Central Airlines, Southern Airways, and Republic Airlines—check out the resources below
Northwest Historical Timeline, 1926-2004
Northwest's history, decade by decade. Select the decade you're interested in.
Northwest Airlines, Inc.: The Birth of an Airline
Northwest published this colorful 24-page booklet to celebrate its 60th Anniversary in 1986.
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Pics, Video & Books & More History
- NWA History Centre: Northwest photos, radio commercials, and links to YouTube videos of TV commercials from Northwest and its family of airlines: Hughes Airwest, North Central Airlines, Southern Airways, and Republic Airlines – learn more »
- Flickr: Installation and 2009 opening of Delta Museum's exhibit "Red Tail Flying: Voices and Images of Northwest Airlines." – view images »
- Delta Blog: Selected images from a 1939 Northwest DC-3 photo album in the Northwest Archives at the Delta Museum – view images »
- Henry Ford Museum: Restored 1939 Douglas DC-3, formerly flown by North Central Airlines, now painted in Northwest livery. – read more »
- Ad*Access: Duke University's collection of Northwest ads. – view ads »
- Airline Timetable Images: Northwest timetables (covers-only and complete issues) and baggage labels – view images »
- Minnesota Historical Society: Northwest Airlines records, 1917-1998 (bulk dates 1930-1994) Inventory of financial records, photos, videos and subject files from Northwest Airlines. – learn more »
- Republic Airlines records, 1940-1986: Inventory of corporate records and subject files related to Republic Airlines (1979-1986) and its predecessor and acquired lines: North Central Airlines, Wisconsin Central Airlines, Southern Airways, Air West/Hughes Airwest, Bonanza Air Lines, Southwest Airways, Pacific Air Lines, and West Coast Airlines. – read more »
- Hughes Airwest Memories: Photos, company newsletters, memorabilia, and employee stories. – learn more »
- Herman the Duck: North Central Airlines history site with detailed aircraft info. – learn more »
- Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame: Bio and photos of Francis Higgins, founder of North Central Airlines. – learn more »
- Southern Airways: Employee directory, reunion info and obituaries, historical photos, company newsletters, music, and TV commercials. – learn more »
- Book: A Million Miles without an Accident, by Northwest Airways, Inc., 1929. Coffee-table styled book with large, b&w photos of Northwest aircraft (interior & exterior), personnel, facilities and in-flight scenes.
- Book: Aircraft in Northwest Airlines' History, by David R. Lane, ca. 1985.
- Book: Airlines for the Rest of Us: The Rise and Fall of America's Local Service Airlines, by Stan Solomon, 2008. Includes histories of many regional airlines found in Northwest's family tree.
- Book: The Airport: Our Link to the Sky, by Robert Sidney Bowen, 1961. Children's book illustrated throughout with color photos of Northwest aircraft, personnel and operations.
- Book: Ceiling Unlimited: The Story of North Central Airlines, by Robert J. Serling, 1973.
- Article: "Donald W. Nyrop: Airline Regulator, Airline Executive," by Donna M. Corbett, in Airline Executives and Federal Regulation: Case Studies in American Enterprise from the Airmail Era to the Dawn of the Jet Age, edited by W. David Lewis, 2000. Longtime CEO Don Nyrop, a former head of the Civil Aeronautics Board, joined an ailing Northwest Airlines in 1954, with hopes of turning it around. Two decades later, Northwest had a standardized and updated aircraft fleet, excellent efficiency and profitability, and a reputation for operational safety and innovation.
- Book: Flight to the Top: How a Home Town Airline Made History…and Keeps on Making It: The Absorbing 60-Year Story of Northwest Airlines, by Kenneth D. Ruble, 1986.
- Book: More Than Meets the Sky: A Pictorial History of the Founding and Growth of Northwest Airlines, by Stephen E. Mills, 1972.
- Book: Northwest Airlines: The First 80 Years(Images of America series), by Geoff Jones, 2005.
- Book: Northwest Orient by Bill Yenne, 1986.
- Book: Speed: The Biography of Charles W. Holman 1976. Holman was a stunt pilot, air racer and Northwest's first flight operations chief.
- Book: Voices from the Sky: Little-Known and Long-Forgotten Stories About Northwest Airlines' Earlier Years, by Robert L. Johnson, published by NWA History Centre, 2007.