Family Tree

Chicago and Southern (C&S) Air Lines

When Memphis, Tennessee-based airline Chicago and Southern merged with Delta in 1953, its routes brought Delta its first international service—out of gateway city New Orleans to the Caribbean and Caracas, Venezuela.

Twenty years earlier, C&S had started out as a little local airline in California, flying between Los Angeles and San Francisco. 

Let's take a look at how C&S grew!


Open the Throttle: The Story of Chicago & Southern

"Good planes, good engines, cautious and capable personnel and then, just open the throttle and take off." C&S founder Carleton Putnam's formula for building an airline, 1945 

Find out more about Putnam and his airline in this small booklet published by C&S in 1950, just after the launch of Caribbean service. Includes black & white photos. See the C&S Story.

Founded as Pacific Seaboard Air Lines

Chicago and Southern's founder, Carleton Putnam, began his career in law and politics before discovering aviation. While walking down a New York City street one day, he saw an airplane for sale and bought it. He arranged for flying lessons packaged as a cross-country flight, and by the time he reached California, Putnam had decided to try his hand in the field of air transportation.

Putnam's new airline, Pacific Seaboard Air Lines, made its first flight on June 25, 1933, without benefit of an airmail contract. Flying from Los Angeles along the seaboard route to San Francisco, the airline stopped at Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, Paso Robles, Salinas and Monterey, California. Fares were "3½ cents per mile—cheaper than driving your car."


Chicago—New Orleans Route Won

In 1934, the U.S. Post Office's call for new bids on all airmail routes gave Putnam hope for financial stability, and he sought one of these contracts. When his bid for the Chicago—New Orleans route won, he shifted operations to the Mississippi Valley.

Putnam's airline inaugurated mail service between Chicago and New Orleans via Memphis, Tennessee, on June 3, 1934; passengers were first flown over the route on July 13, 1934. In 1935, the company name changed to Chicago and Southern Air Lines.



Growth and Wartime Work

C&S continued to expand service during the 1940s, interrupted by World War II activities. Flights started between Memphis and Houston, Texas, via Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1941. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, C&S quickly opened a modification center to prepare U.S. Army combat aircraft for immediate use in war zones.

Post war, the airline experienced rapid route expansion. C&S reached the most northern city on its route when it started service to Detroit, on June 1, 1945. New domestic destinations were added in the Midwest and the South—to Arkansas, Indiana, Missouri and Texas—until the end of the decade. Continuing southward, C&S launched its first international service.


International Service

C&S was awarded its first international route on May 24, 1946, to the Caribbean. Operating from its gateway city of New Orleans, C&S ultimately flew to Havana, Cuba; Kingston and Montego Bay, Jamaica; Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Aruba and Curaco, Netherlands Antilles; Cuidad Trujillo (today's Santo Domingo), Dominican Republic; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Caracas, Venezuela. C&S was "linking the Americans through the Treasure Islands of the Caribbean."


Merger with Delta

In early 1950s, Delta began to consider the prospect of a merger as a method of expanding its route system. With the complementary character of the Delta and C&S route systems and the fact that both companies shared a common business philosophy, a merger appeared natural. On May 1, 1953, the Civil Aeronautics Board formally transferred the routes of Chicago and Southern to Delta. After the merger, the airline operated as Delta-C&S for a couple of years, before continuing as "Delta" in Summer 1955.




C&S Aircraft

Curtis K-6 Oriole Rented mail plane, 1926
Bellanca CH-300 Pacemaker 4 passengers, 120 mph, June 19, 1933-Sept 30, 1936
Stinson T SM-6000 8 passengers, 120 mph, Feb 1, 1935-Apr 30, 1936
Lockheed 10B Electra 10 passengers, 160 mph, May 1, 1936-Apr 30, 1940
Douglas DC-3 21 passengers, 180 mph, May 1, 1940-May 1, 1953 (merger with Delta)
C-47 Air freighter, Dates of use unknown (post-World War II)
Douglas DC-4 50 passengers, 220 mph, Mar 19, 1946-1951
Lockheed Constellation L-649 & L-749 57 passengers, 300 mph, 1950-May 1, 1953 (merger with Delta)

More Information

  • YouTube: Discovery - Great Planes Douglas C-47 video shows early 1940s footage of C&S DC-3's being requisitioned for World War II military service and C&S personnel at work removing C&S branding and equipment from the aircraft.
  • YouTube: 1947 Air Transport Jobs film has C&S DC-4 ground shots and employees at work at Chicago-Midway airport
  • YouTube: Color footage of C&S DC-4 and flight crew, ca. 1945-1948.
  • Ad*Access: Duke University's collection of C&S ads
  • Airline Timetable Images: C&S timetables (covers-only and complete issues) and baggage labels
  • Flickr: Photos of C&S artifacts on display at the Delta Flight Museum in 2009
  • Book: Delta: An Airline and Its Aircraft: An Illustrated History of a Major U.S. Airline and the People Who Made It, by R.E.G. Davies, 1990. Includes C&S history, aircraft photos, route maps, and fleet lists.
  • Book: High Journey: A Decade in the Pilgrimage of an Air Line Pioneer, by Carleton Putnam, 1945.
  • Article: "Delta Lady: Chicago & Southern Air Lines," Airways, December 2010. See article abstract and purchase issue.