"Western Airlines was born out of the same pioneering spirit that settled the American West." Jerry Grinstein, Western (and future Delta) chairman and CEO, on Western's 60th anniversary in 1986.
When it merged with Delta in 1987, Western was the oldest continuously operating airline in the United States. Service started April 17, 1926, when Western Air Express took off carrying mail from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City.
Western quickly launched a long string of industry firsts. Adversity and practical business needs spawned innovations in radio communications, weather tracking, marketing and in-flight services. Some are still in use today.
- 1926 – Western flies its first mail on April 17, and begins carrying passengers on May 23. The company owns six open-cockpit Douglas M-2 planes, has 24 employees and operates out of an old hangar that had been a former movie studio.
- 1926 – In June, Western carries the first woman passenger in U.S. commercial airline history (Maude Campbell).
- 1927 – First U.S. airline to pay a cash dividend to stockholders.
- 1928 – First airline to fly a tri-motor (3-engine) plane in the United States, the Fokker F-10.
- 1928 – Western begins developing the basis for today's air-to-ground communications and weather forecasting. Establishes 37 weather stations along its "model" airway route (Los Angeles-San Francisco)—achieving a 99% on-time performance. Uses the first directional radio compass for air navigation in 1930, and with the Boeing Aircraft Company, develops and uses the first air-to-ground radio.
- 1930 – Western has the largest air system in the world, covering 16,000 miles with 40 aircaft.
- 1930 – First airline to fly a 4-engine passenger plane in the United States, the Fokker F-32. Western also offered the first reclining seats for airline passengers in the F-32.
- 1932 – First airline with airborne television reception (a one-time event). The broadcast, from an experimental TV station, features a then-unknown actress named Loretta Young.
- 1938 – First airline to place typewriters onboard for passenger use.
- 1950 – First airline to use a conveyor belt system for loading and unloading aircraft.
- 1954 – First airline with luxurious "Champagne Flights," offering complimentary champagne, steaks, corsages, perfume and cigars.
To learn more about the airline's 61 years of achievement, check out the resources below:
Western Historical Timeline, 1926-2004
Follow Western's history, decade by decade.
Beating the Odds: The First Sixty Years of Western Airlines
Western published this colorful 22-page booklet to commemorate its 60th anniversary of passenger service in 1986. Throughout, you find numerous photos and ads from Western's corporate archives, which came to Delta after the airlines merged in 1987.
Download PDF »
Pics, Video & Books
- Airchive: Western ads – view ads »
- Ad*Access: Duke University's collection of Western ads. – view ads »
- Airline Timetable Images: Western timetables (covers-only and complete issues) and baggage labels – view images »
- TV Acres.com: Learn about Western's animated Very Important Bird (VIB), also known as "Wally Bird," who made his TV debut in Western commercials in the mid 1950s, with the tagline "The O-O-Only Way to Fly." – read more »
- Book: The Only Way to Fly: The Story of Western Airlines, America's Senior Air Carrier, by Robert J. Sterling, 1976
- Book: Airplane Transportation, by James G. Wooley (Western Air Express vice president), and Earl W. Hill, 1929.
- Book: The Only Way to Fly: The Story of Western Airlines, America's Senior Air Carrier, by Robert J. Sterling, 1976.
- Book: Legacy of Flight: The Guggenheim Contribution to American Aviation, by Richard P. Hallion, 1977.