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  • Delta Stories: Amelia Earhart

    Jul 24, 2019

    Today is Amelia Earhart Day, honoring the pioneering aviator on her birthday, July 24, 1897.

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    Amelia Earhart flying Delta on a lecture tour, 1936.

    Her fascinating legacy and record-setting flying career are well known. What you may not know is that Earhart is part of Delta history through Delta's mergers with Northeast Airlines in 1972, and Northwest Airlines in 2008. 

    Northwest Airways Survey Flight Observer

    In 1933, Amelia Earhart rode along as an observer on a Northwest Airways survey flight to help convince Washington officials that a "Northern Transcontinental" route between Chicago and Seattle was feasible in winter.

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    Amelia Earhart with (left-right) Chicago-Seattle survey flight crew co-pilot Joe Kimm and pilot Hugh Ruechenberg, and Northwest Airways Chief Pilot Mal Freeburg, 1933.

    Joe Kimm remembered the Northern Transcontinental survey flight in a Ford Trimotor left in "the dead of winter," in late January: 

    “We took six days, two extra days in Spokane because of the weather. All of the ‘experts’ said no one could establish a commercial airline route across this northern tier of states. The winter weather. Impossible. . . . We did it with the most rudimentary flight instruments . . . It was seat-of-the-pants flying across the Dakota and Montana plains and through, over and around the western mountain ranges.” 

    In cities along the way, Amelia Earhart and Northwest Airways founder Col. L.H. Brittin gave interviews to reporters and were hosted by officials and prominent citizens. Earhart also gave a lecture in Portland, Oregon.

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    In December 1933, Northwest Airways successfully launched service to Seattle. Northwest was now a major airline with a system spanning more than half the U.S. and providing a vital air link from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest.

    Northeast Airlines Founder

    Amelia Earhart was one of four partners who invested in Boston-Maine Airways, a small New England airline and subsidiary of Boston and Maine Railroad, in 1933. Boston-Maine Airways became Northeast Airlines in 1941.

    boston-maine_1933_amelia_earhart_with_executives_and_stinson_t
    Amelia Earhart with other airline founders, chief pilot and railroad officials at the launch of Boston-Maine Airways service in 1933. 

    She was on board the airlines’ inaugural flight on August 11, 1933, as the 8-passenger Stinson T plane flew from Boston, Massachusetts, to Portland and Bangor, Maine. 

    Earhart attracted public interest and customers to the new airline. She had just set two major air records the previous year: first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic in May 1932, and first woman to fly solo nonstop coast to coast across the U.S. in August 1932.

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    English aviator Amy Johnson and Amelia Earhart with a Boston-Maine Airways station manager during a publicity flight, August 26, 1933

    As a vice president of Boston-Maine, Earhart did publicity trips to cities along the airline’s route, speaking with the press and prominent citizens along the way.

    After Earhart was lost during an around-the-world attempt in 1937,  Northeast Airlines dedicated its new aircraft hangar in Boston to her memory in 1949.

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    Learn more about this event and see the commemorative plaque in our Online Collections.

    Marie Force

    Archives Director

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