From Huff Daland Dusters to Delta

Delta's history begins with Huff Daland Dusters, the world’s first aerial crop-dusting company, incorporated on March 2, 1925.

This small, pioneering agricultural business was the result of a government, military and corporate partnership that came together in the early 1920s to improve methods for treating crops. At the time, the boll weevil insect was devastating the cotton industry and posed a serious financial threat to the South’s economy. 

Delta's birth as a crop-dusting company is unique among the U.S. airlines. Taking an entrepreneurial risk, Delta also began passenger service in 1929 without air mail subsidies. Forced to suspend airline operations during the Great Depression, Delta survived and grew into one of the world's largest airlines. That spirit of innovation and customer service was embodied by Delta's principal founder C.E. Woolman, who joined Huff Daland Dusters in May 1925, and led Delta into the Jet Age. 

See key events from Huff Daland Dusters to Delta:

Early experiments lead to commercial development

1921 History of aerial application begins when Army Lt. John Macready takes off from McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio, for the first experiment of crop dusting by airplane.

1922 Entomologist Bert R. Coad begins tests for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Uses loaned Army pilots and planes to dust cotton fields near the USDA’s Delta Laboratory in Tallulah, Louisiana.

1923 Aircraft manufacturer Huff, Daland & Company, Inc., of Ogdensburg, New York, begins working with Coad to design and build an agricultural airplane. 

Note: In July 1925, Huff, Daland & Company moved from Ogdensburg, N.Y. to Bristol, Pa., as Huff-Daland Airplanes, Inc. Renamed Keystone Aircraft Corp. in March 1927. Source: The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Directory of Airplanes

July 28, 1924 First test flight of the Huff-Daland Duster, the first airplane built for crop dusting. Test pilot is world-famous Harold Harris on loan from the Army to the USDA. 

Aug. 26, 1924 First public aerial dusting demonstration is hosted in Athens, Ga., by the USDA; Huff, Daland & Company and Georgia State College of Agriculture at the University of Georgia. Loaned Army pilots fly three Huff-Daland Dusters

September 1924 First commercial airplane dusting for insect control in the United States. Huff, Daland & Company dusts 1,800 acres at 35 cents per acre at Robertshaw Company Plantation at Heathman, Mississippi (near Greenville, Ms).

Huff Daland Dusters is founded

Nov. 17, 1924 Georgia State College of Agriculture hosts a meeting in Athens, Ga., for county agents, local farmers and Huff, Daland & Company representatives. Planning begins for commercial dusting in Georgia in 1925.

Feb. 11, 1925 Huff, Daland & Company contracts with the Macon Chamber of Commerce to establish the headquarters of a dusting subsidiary company in Macon for the “dusting of peach and pecan orchards and cotton fields in Georgia.”

Feb. 18, 1925 Huff, Daland & Company opens its dusting subsidiary office in the Bibb Building in downtown Macon, Georgia. The city is building a $5,000 hangar at the Camp Wheeler site.

Mar. 2, 1925 Huff Daland Dusters, Inc. is incorporated

  • Purposes for the new company include using aircraft for "the carrying of passengers, goods, wares and merchandise, for all kinds of commercial purposes, including agricultural and forestry, such as dusting, seeding and sowing, planting and fertilizing, forestry patrol and survey, for aerial survey and photography for any and all uses, for exhibition or advertising purposes, at any place within or without the United States." Other purposes included operating flying schools; buying, selling or leasing aircraft; and business related to "motors, engines or other machinery or devices . . . for the generation of power" to operate aircraft.
  • George B. Post is general manager.
  • Triangle-shared company logo features Thor, the Norse god of thunder, war and agriculture, symbolizing the fight against the boll weevil insect.

March 1925 Harold Harris, on leave of absence from the Army, joins Huff Daland Dusters as operations manager. Begins hiring dusting pilots, although Charles Lindbergh turns down an offer of $2,400 year contract in favor of barnstorming.

Mar. 17, 1925 First of 18 aircraft arrive in Macon, "the largest unsubsidized air fleet in the world in those days," C.E. Woolman recalled in 1965.

  • Read all about it! The Duster Dispatch newspaper published by Huff Daland Dusters and distributed at the Peach Festival in Fort Valley, Ga.
  • See Duster artifacts in our Online Collections.

Mar. 25, 1925 Huff Daland Dusters begins commercial work dusting peach trees in Montezuma, Georgia. This is the first dusting of fruit orchards by airplane for insect control.

C.E. Woolman joins Huff Daland Dusters

May 30, 1925 C.E.Woolman, later Delta's first CEO, joins Huff Daland Dusters as chief entomologist. He is on a one-year leave of absence from Louisiana State University’s Agricultural Extension Dept.

  • May 30 is the official date in Delta's records, but early June is possible.
  • Delta celebrated May 1, 1925 as Woolman’s work anniversary until his death in 1966.

Huff Daland Dusters moves to Monroe, La.

July 14, 1925 Huff Daland Dusters closes its Macon office in preparation for relocating to Monroe, Louisiana.

  • Lower than expected work in Georgia, but high demand across the South, requires establishing units in multiple states and moving headquarters to a more central location, the Mississippi Delta region.
  • Contracts signed for dusting work in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and North Carolina.
  • Aviation booster and local bank president Travis Oliver convinces Monroe to establish an air field and build a hangar for Huff Daland Dusters.

Fall 1925 Huff Daland Dusters begins operations in Monroe, La., from Monroe Aviation Field (renamed Smoot Field in 1926). Moves to better facilities at Selman Field in 1928.

1926 Woolman continues marketing and selling this new agricultural service. Crop dusting extends to Arkansas, Texas, California and Mexico by 1927.  

1927 Huff Daland Dusters operates in Peru during the first four months of 1927 and 1928 (during winter in the U.S., then return for the start of the U.S. cotton season).

June 1928 Woolman negotiates a successful bid in Huff Daland Dusters’ name for an airline concession and airmail contract in Peru. Financiers, who now own Huff Daland Duster's parent company, Keystone Aircraft Corp., are working with the U.S. government and Pan American Airways to secure U.S. entry into Latin America in competition with Germany and France.

Sept. 13, 1928 First scheduled passenger service begins in Peru. Huff Daland Dusters pilot Dan Tobin flies a Fairchild FC-2 from Lima to Talara, with stops at Chimbote, Trujillo, Pimentel and Paita. With that flight, Huff Daland Dusters became "the first air mail and passenger air lines operator south of the equator in the western hemisphere," recalled  Woolman in 1941.

November 1928 Huff Daland Dusters' air service permits transfer to Peruvian Airways Corp., a partnership of Pan American Airways and R.W. Grace, Co., later known as Panagra.

Delta Air Service begins

Dec. 3, 1928 Delta Air Service incorporated after local investors, led by C.E. Woolman and Monroe banker Travis Oliver, purchase Huff Daland Dusters assets.

  • Company named “Delta Air Service” for the Mississippi Delta region it served. Learn more about how Delta became "Delta," see our blog.
  • D.Y. Smith, a local planter, is president; C.E. Woolman is vice president and general manager.
  • Members of the charter Board of Directors were D.Y. Smith (chair), C.E. Woolman, Harold H. Harris and Travis Oliver. John S. Fox became a director after Delta Air Service acquired the assets of Fox Flying Service in 1929.

June 17, 1929 Delta operates first passenger flights over route stretching from Dallas, Texas to Jackson, Mississippi, via Shreveport and Monroe, Louisiana. Travel Air S-6000-B airplanes carry five passengers and one pilot.

Oct. 1, 1930 Delta suspends all passenger service after losing bid to carry air mail over the route it pioneered. Aviation Corp. (American Airlines predecessor) purchases assets of Delta Air Service.

Delta Air Corporation begins

Nov. 3, 1930 Travis Oliver, acting as trustee for C.E. Woolman and associates, reacquires the crop-dusting assets from Southern Air Fast Express, a subsidiary of Aviation Corp. Crop-dusting aircraft, engines, tools and other supplies purchased for $12,500.

Dec. 31, 1930 Delta Air Corporation incorporated in Louisiana.

  • Headquarters remain at Selman Field in Monroe.
  • D.Y. Smith, president; C.E. Woolman, vice president and general manager
  • Delta directors since 1930 are listed here.
  • in the midst of the Great Depression, Delta survives by crop dusting, aerial survey services, managing Selman Field, operating a flight school, and "top-quality, extensive services for the repair and overhaul of aircraft."

July 4, 1934 Starts mail service; passenger service begins August 5. Doing business as "Delta Air Lines." For more details, see First Flights.

1945 Delta Air Corporation is officially renamed Delta Air Lines.

Huff Daland Duster parked
C.E. Woolman, late1920s-1930s
Selman Field with crates for Peru
Peru Newspaper Article 13 Sept 1928
Delta headquarters in Monroe, LA, 1929
Travel Air ad
1934 Stinson T
Airmail first flight cover, Monroe, 1934