Family Tree

Northwest Airlines

"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

Northwest Airways took off in 1926, with a couple of rented biplane 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." Learn more about Northwest and its affiliated airlines—Hughes Airwest, North Central Airlines, Southern Airways and Republic Airlines. 

Northwest Airlines: Birth of An Airline

Northwest published this colorful 24-page 60th anniversary booklet in 1986.
See Birth of an Airline.  

Northwest Historical Timeline, 1926-2004

Follow Northwest's history, decade by decade.


Northwest Airlines Aircraft

Curtis K-6 Oriole Rented mail plane, 1926
Thomas-Morse Scout Rented mail plane, 1926-?
Stinson SB-1 Detroiter 1926-19?
Laird LC-B Commercial Mail plane, 1927-?
Laird LC-RJ (200) Speedwing Modified Laird Commercial used by Chief Pilot Charles "Speed" Holman for air shows and races, 1928-1931.
Waco 10W Mail plane, 1928-1936. See restored Waco 125 at Delta Museum.
Waco JYM Mail plane, 1929-1936.  See restored Waco 125 at Delta Museum.
Ford 5-AT Tri-Motor (-A, -B, -C) 1928-1935
Hamilton H47 Metalplane 1928-1937, last sold 1941
Stinson SM-2AB Junior 1930-1932
Travel Air A-6000-A 1931-1934
Sikorsky S-38 (C, D) 1931-1935
Lockheed Orion 9D 1933-1935
Lockheed 10A, -10B Electra 1934-1942
Stinson SR-5, -9, -9D Reliant Mail plane, 1936-1946
Lockheed 14H Super Electra 1937-1939
Douglas DC-3 1939-1958
Douglas DC-4 1945-1961
Martin 202 1947-1952
Boeing 377 Stratocruiser 1949-1960
Douglas DC-6A, -6B 1953-1965
Lockheed 1049G Super Constellation 1955-1957
Douglas DC-7C Seven Seas 1957-1968 (Modified five into convertible freighter/passenger configuration in 1961.)
Lockheed L-188C Electra 1959-1972
Douglas DC-8-30 1960-1964
Boeing 720B 1961-1974
Boeing 707-320B, -320C Intercontinental 1963-1978
Boeing 727-100, -200, -200 Advanced, 727C 1964-2003
Boeing 747-100, -200, -200 Advanced,  -200F, -400 1970-2008
Douglas DC-10-30, -40 1972-2007
Boeing 757-200, -300 1985-2008
Douglas DC-9-30, -40, -50  1986-2008
Airbus A320-200 1989-2008
Airbus A319-100 1999-2008
Airbus A330-200, -300 2003-2008


More Information

  • YouTube: "Northwest Airlines - The Sun Will Never Set" closing video to the 2008 NWA managers meeting.
  • 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
  • Flickr: Installation and opening of Delta Museum's 2009 exhibit "Red Tail Flying: Voices and Images of Northwest Airlines"
  • Henry Ford Museum: Restored 1939 Douglas DC-3 flown by North Central Airlines, now painted in Northwest livery
  • Ad*Access: Duke University's collection of Northwest ads
  • Airline Timetable Images: Northwest timetables (covers-only and complete issues) and baggage labels
  • Minnesota Historical Society: Northwest Airlines records 1917-1998, including financial records, photos, videos and subject files from Northwest Airlines
  • Republic Airlines records, 1940-1986: Corporate records and subject files of Republic Airlines (1979-1986) and its airline family: North Central Airlines, Wisconsin Central Airlines, Southern Airways, Air West/Hughes Airwest, Bonanza Air Lines, Southwest Airways, Pacific Air Lines, and West Coast Airlines
  • Hughes Airwest Memories: Photos, company newsletters, memorabilia, and employee stories
  • Herman the Duck: North Central Airlines history site with detailed aircraft information
  • Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame: Biography and photos of Francis Higgins, founder of North Central Airlines
  • Pacific Airlines/Southwest Airways: Aircraft photos, employee directory, scrapbook, stories
  • Southern Airways: Employee directory, reunions and obituaries, historical photos, company newsletters, music, and TV commercials
  • Book: A Million Miles without an Accident, by Northwest Airways, Inc., 1929 (reprinted in 1991). Picture book with large, b&w photos of Northwest aircraft, 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. Tells he story of how Northwest's famous 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 world record-setting 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.
  • Book: Non-Stop: A Turbulence History of Northwest Airlines, by Jack El-Hai, 2013.