Northwest Historical Timeline

Though the Decades

Northwest's history, decade by decade. Select the decade you're interested in.


1948 - The "Red Tail" is painted on all Northwest aircraft for the first time, creating a trademark that becomes known world-wide and that continues in use almost 50 years later.


February 14: NWA common stock is publicly traded for the first time. 

Annual passenger revenue exceeds mail revenue for the first time.

1942 - 1944

Northwest carries out 11 major government wartime assignments, including lifeline to Alaska, bomber modification and a variety of special projects; employment leaps from 881 to 10,439.

Service to several smaller cities is suspended when the government commandeers half of Northwest's fleet. Northwest receives Army-Navy "E" for operation of bomber modification center.

Southern Airways applies for CAB certification to establish a local service air carrier in eight southeastern states.

Wisconsin Central Airlines is incorporated with the Four Wheel Drive Automobile Company as the major shareholder. Francis Higgins, formerly advertising and public relations manager of FWD, is named president. The airline begins a four-year battle to win an operating certificate from the CAB.


June 1: New York service is launched from the Twin Cities via Milwaukee and Detroit, making Northwest the fourth transcontinental air carrier.

Northwest adds its first four-engine aircraft, the Douglas DC-4.


Service expands to Newark, New Jersey, and Anchorage, Alaska (via Seattle).

August 6: Bonanza Air Lines begins scheduled service (between Las Vegas and Reno).

Empire Airlines acquires Zimmerly Airlines.  

December 5: West Coast Airlines launches operations with headquarters in Seattle and route between Seattle and Portland, Oregon.


January 2: "Inside" route to Anchorage is launched from the Twin Cities.

July 15: Northwest Orient service begins from the Twin Cities via Edmonton, Anchorage and Shemya, Alaska, to Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai and Manila.

September 25: First service to Okinawa.

Service expands to Jamestown, North Dakota., Aberdeen, South Dakota, and Bozeman, Montana.

The twin engine Martin 202 enters service.



February 24:  After a four-year fight to win CAB certification, Wisconsin Central Airlines begins scheduled service. The first flight: Minneapolis/St. Paul, to Hibbing/Chisholm, Minnesota, in a Lockheed Electra. All other "first day" flights are canceled due to bitter cold and widespread freezing rain and snow.

The "Red Tail" is painted on all Northwest aircraft for the first time, creating a trademark that becomes known world-wide and that continued in use until Northwest merged with Delta in 2008.

Service expands to Washington, DC, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Honolulu.