Delta Air Lines and Predecessors on Postcards

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Written by Marvin G. Goldman 

Delta ‘Welcome’ postcard in its ‘Keep Climbing’ series, issued by the airline about 2017.   

Delta Air Lines has a long and fascinating history, starting with a tiny operation in the mid-1920s.  In its early years Delta was not favored with government-subsidized mail contracts and route awards to the extent enjoyed by American, Eastern, Pan Am, TWA and United, but Delta grew internally with good management, and eventually it also acquired several large airlines, including Chicago & Southern (1953), Northeast (1972), Western (1987) and Northwest (2009).

By the end of 2017, Delta’s annual revenue totaled $41 billion (3d largest in the world, just after Lufthansa group and American Airlines group).  It carried 186 million passengers in 2017 (2d only to American’s group) with over 850 aircraft, to more than 335 destinations.

I devote about half of the postcard images in this article to Delta itself, and have selected one or two postcards for each of the more significant Delta predecessors.  I have also included certain dates of airline acquisitions, service periods and liveries to aid in assigning a time frame to postcards of Delta and its predecessors.

Compared to the other major U.S. airlines (such as American, Eastern, Pan Am, TWA and United), Delta in the pre-internet era distributed relatively fewer ‘airline-issued’ postcards.  However, in recent years the Delta Flight Museum in Atlanta (also known as the Delta Air Transport Heritage Museum) has been issuing several modern postcards showing Delta aircraft or reproductions of historic Delta posters that are available for purchase at the museum or on its website “deltamuseum.org”.  In addition, Delta has been issuing in the U.S. and from local offices in Europe some modern ‘advertising’ or ‘destination’-type postcards.

Delta traces its roots to Huff-Daland Dusters, a crop-dusting operation established in 1924.  I am not aware of any postcards issued by that company, but recently the Delta heritage museum published the following:

Huff-Daland Duster (Petrel 31) crop duster. Modern postcard of one of the company’s original aircraft, beautifully restored by Delta employees. Aircraft donated to the National Air and Space Museum in 1966, and on loan to the Delta Flight Museum, Atlanta, Georgia. Postcard published in 2002 by the Delta Flight Museum.

In late 1928 C. E. Woolman and a group of investors in Monroe, Louisiana, acquired the assets of Huff-Daland Dusters and formed Delta Air Service. This new company continued crop-dusting and, with two newly acquired Travel Air Model S-6000-Bs, started scheduled passenger service on 17 June 1929.  C. E. Woolman went on to serve Delta in leading executive positions for 38 years.

Curtiss-Wright 6B Sedan, restored and painted to represent Delta’s 1929 Travel Air S-6000B, and now on exhibit at the Delta Flight Museum.  Modern postcard issued by the Delta Flight Museum.

Delta’s original headquarters at Monroe, Louisiana, about 1930, with a Curtiss Robin J-1 at right.  Issued by Airliners International 2015 Atlanta, photo courtesy of Delta Flight Museum, published by jjPostcards, Bassersdorf, Switzerland.

From 1930 to 1934 Delta barely survived, as it could not obtain any useful airmail route from the U.S. Government in order to be profitable.  However, when the mail routes were rebid in 1934, Delta managed to land new Route 24 between Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas and Charleston, South Carolina, via Monroe, Louisiana; Birmingham, Alabama; and Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia.  Initially it used Stinson aircraft on the route, but at the end of 1935 Delta acquired the first of five Lockheed 10 Electras that served as its main aircraft during the last half of the 1930s.

Delta Lockheed 10 Electra at Augusta, Georgia. ‘Linen’ finish. Pub’r: John J. Miller Co., no. 67788; printed by Tichnor Bros., Boston.

In 1940 Delta acquired Douglas DC-2 and DC-3 aircraft, starting a long close relationship with Douglas airliners, followed by DC-4s in 1946, DC-6s in 1948, and DC-7s in 1956.

Delta Douglas DC-2, NC14921, its first of the type, at Atlanta, Georgia. ‘Linen’ finish. Pub’r: R. & R. News Co., Atlanta; printed by Curteich-Chicago, no. 0B-H1385, 1940. This aircraft was purchased from American Airlines and in service with Delta from February 1940 to January 1941.  There are at least three varieties of this postcard, with different text on the front and back.

Delta Douglas DC-3, NC28341, ‘Ship 41’. Airline Issue (‘A/I’) in 2004 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Delta’s passenger service. Published by the Delta Flight Museum. This aircraft flew Delta’s first DC-3 passenger service, 24 December 1940, and DC-3s remained in Delta’s fleet until 1960. Ship 41 is on display at the Delta Flight Museum.                          

Delta Douglas DC-6 Over Miami Beach, Florida. ‘Linen’ finish postcard. Pub’r Curteich, no. 2C-N704, 1952. Delta operated DC-6s from October 1948 to December 1968.

Delta-C&S Douglas DC-7, N4871C. A/I, no. T106. This aircraft is shown in its original delivery color scheme and was the first one delivered to Delta, in March 1954, soon after the May 1953 merger of Chicago & Southern (C&S) into Delta. The image on this card was utilized on two other Delta-issued postcards, with slight modifications. First, the card was reprinted with the tail marking changed to show a ‘Golden Crown’, reflecting an enhanced service, still with the Delta-C&S name which was retained by the airline from the time of the merger until September 1955. Then, the card was reprinted a second time with the Delta-C&S name on the front changed to “Delta” and with other stylistic livery changes. The wording on the back of each version differs. Yet all three versions carry the same airline issue number. 

For shorter-haul routes during the 1950s, Delta modernized its fleet with Convair 340s starting in 1953 and 440s starting in 1956.

Delta Convair 440, N4820C, at Paducah, Kentucky. This aircraft was originally a model 340 acquired in 1954 that was modified to the 440 standard after 1956. Pub’r: Curteich no. 1DK-665; distributed by Wilson’s Book and Stationery, Paducah, 1961.

In 1957 Delta acquired five Curtiss C-46s from Civil Air Transport of Taiwan for air freight services.  These aircraft served until about 1967.

Delta Curtiss C-46 ‘Air Freighter’, N9884F. A/I, probably 1957. Oversize card. Peter Fu Collection.

Delta joined the jet age on 18 September 1959 by launching the first scheduled service of the Douglas DC-8 pure jet (New York to Atlanta route).  Just eight months later, Delta became the first to launch service of the Convair 880.  For short-haul routes, Delta introduced the DC-9 in 1965.

DC-8-11, N804E, at Miami. This was one of Delta’s first DC-8s, received in October 1959. It was subsequently upgraded to a DC-8-12 and then DC-8-51 standard. Pub’r: Curteich no. G.519; distributed by Gulf Stream Card, Miami. My card is postmarked 15 November 1961.

Convair 880, N8802E, Delta’s second 880, received February 1960. Delta initially called the 880 the “Aristocrat of Jets”, as stated on the reverse of this card and emphasized by the crown over the 880 on the front. A/I, no. T-315, also with an apparent Curteich number 0DK-606 indicating a 1960 issue date. This card was later reprinted by Delta (bearing the same postcard numbers) with the text on the front removed and different text on the reverse. The ‘Aristocrat’ wording was dropped and, in a preview of things to come, the number of passengers noted was increased from 84 to 92.

Douglas DC-9-14, N3303L.  This is an unusual ‘pop-up’ postcard issued by Delta. When opened up, the inside has an interior view on the left and a ‘pop-up’ view of the DC-9 with a sky background, giving a 3-D effect.

The 1970s saw the introduction of several wide-body jet aircraft. Delta operated a handful of Boeing 747s and DC-10-10s in the early 1970s, but found them not the best suited for its route system. Instead it turned to the Lockheed L-1011 Tristar 1 and later the Tristar 500, operating more than 50 L-1011s.

Lockheed L-1011 TriStar 500, N751DA, the first model 500 operated by Delta, introduced in 1979 particularly for long-range routes. A/I in 2000 as an historical postcard. This card shows the classic Delta ‘widget’ livery in use on Delta aircraft from 1962 to 1997.

Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia has served as Delta’s main hub for several decades. The dominance of Delta at this airport is amazing. Just like today, the following airport scene in the 1980s featured row after row of Delta aircraft.

Delta aircraft, including Boeing 727s, L-1011s and DC-8s, taking on passengers at multiple rows of gates, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Atlanta, Georgia. Pub’r: Thomas Warren Enterprises, Atlanta, nos. 561109 and A-153.

Delta’s later jet fleet includes a mixture of mainly Boeing and Airbus aircraft, the larger portion being modern Boeing types.  Here are a few postcard examples:

Delta Boeing 767-200, N102DA, its first 767, with a special livery symbolizing Delta’s role as the Official Airline of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. A/I, no. P98303. There is another variation of this card, A/I no. P97977, with the aircraft closer up and lower, and with the Delta Olympic logo smaller. Named ‘The Spirit of Delta’, the funds to acquire this aircraft were raised by Delta’s employees through payroll deductions. The aircraft is now on display at the Delta Flight Museum, as seen in the next postcard image.

Delta Boeing 777-200, with Delta’s ‘Colors in Motion’ tail livery (also called ‘Flowing Fabric’), its main tail livery from 2000 to 2007. Delta introduced the 777 in May 1995. A/I, 2000.

Delta Boeing 757-200, N717TW, in SkyTeam logo, at LAX, 19 January 2009. Duane Young photo. Issued by Airliners International 2014 LAX. Pub’r jj Postcards. Delta is a founding member of the SkyTeam airline alliance.

Delta Airbus A350-900, N502DN, in Delta’s ‘Onward and Upward’ livery adopted 30 April 2007 and still current. This livery re-introduced the Delta ‘widget’ logo, in updated form. It took four years to complete the livery changeover on all its aircraft. The A350 is the latest addition to Delta’s fleet. Pub’r Flying Photos Magazine. Photo by Agustin Anaya, Atlanta.

Turning to more significant airlines that merged into the Delta system over the years, I have selected one or two postcards of each, generally showing an aircraft and color scheme in use at the time of the acquisition concerned.  Let’s start with the first major acquisition by Delta — Chicago & Southern Air Lines on 1 May 1953.

Chicago & Southern Lockheed Constellation 749. A/I, Nov. 1951. This aircraft type became a Delta-C&S aircraft upon the 1953 merger of C&S into Delta.

Delta’s next acquisition was Northeast Airlines (known as Boston-Maine Airways prior to 19 November 1940). This acquisition occurred on 1 August 1972.

Northeast 727-95 in the famous ‘Yellowbird’ livery introduced in 1966, over the Miami Beach ‘Gold Coast’, Florida. A/I, 1966. In 1967 Northeast started to acquire the larger Boeing 727-200, and on 14 December 1967 it operated the first scheduled flight of that type, in ‘Yellowbird’ livery from Miami to New York (Kennedy).  Northeast’s 727s were all taken over by Delta upon their 1972 merger.

In December 1986 Delta acquired Western Air Lines, their operations being merged on 1 April 1987. This added numerous western U.S. routes to Delta’s system and made it the fourth largest airline in the U.S. at the time.

Western Air Lines McDonnell Douglas DC-10-10, referred to by Western as the ‘Magnificent Queen of Western’s jet fleet’ and the ‘DC-10 Spaceship’. A/I. There are two versions of this card, with different text on the reverse and a different destinations list. Western operated this type from 1973 until its 1987 merger with Delta.

Pacific Northern Airlines Boeing 720, taking off from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. A/I, no. P42365, issued late 1961 or early 1962. Artist card. Originally founded as Woodley Airways, the airline adopted the Pacific Northern name in 1945 and, in 1967, it merged into Western Air Lines which later merged into Delta.

On 1 October 2009 Delta made its largest acquisition ever — Northwest Airlines. This resulted in Delta becoming, by some measures, the largest airline in the world.  Northwest itself had absorbed several other airlines over the years. Here are some postcard examples of more significant ones, funneling into Northwest and then ultimately into Delta.

Northwest Airlines four-view postcard showing a Boeing 747-400 and 757, Airbus A320, and MD-80 in the color scheme featuring a logo on the tail having an ‘N’ and circle with a triangle pointing northwest. Probably an A/I, no. 23285-E. Postmarked 8 January 1994. Northwest merged into Delta on 1 October 2009.

Northwest Orient Airlines 747-100 tri-view card also showing two interior scenes. A/I, about 1970. Oversize, 6 x 8.5” (15.2 x 21.5cm.). 747 timetable on portion of back. Northwest dropped ‘Orient’ from its brand name upon its 1986 acquisition of Republic.

Republic Airlines Boeing 727-200, N715RC. A/I, no. 0-04 10-3-1186. Oversize, 3.75 x 8.5” (9.5 x 21.7cm.). Republic merged into Northwest Airlines on 1 October 1986.

One of Republic Airlines’ predecessors was Wisconsin Central Airlines, founded in 1944 to serve cities in Wisconsin.  As its service territory expanded Wisconsin Central changed its name on 16 December 1952 to North Central Airlines, which then combined with Southern Airways in 1978 to become Republic Airlines1

Wisconsin Central Airlines Lockheed Electra L-10A. A/I. Wisconsin Central started operating L-10As on 25 February 1948, and this postcard probably dates from that year.

North Central Airlines Douglas DC-9. A/I, printed by Cartwheel, Afton, Minnesota, no. 121383, issued about 1977. A variant of this card has North Central’s Philadelphia office phone numbers on the reverse. North Central was known as Wisconsin Central from 1944 to 15 December 1952. On 13 July 1979 North Central merged with Southern Airways to form Republic Airlines.

Southern Airways DC-9-31, N908H. A/I. Oversize, 4 x 7” (10.2 x 17.7cm). Southern merged with North Central Airlines on 13 July 1979 to form Republic Airlines.

Republic Airlines acquired Hughes Airwest (previously known as Air West) on 1 October 1980. Air West in turn was a combination of three airlines. Here is a selection of postcards from this group of airlines that eventually, through Northwest, melded into Delta.

Hughes Airwest DC-9-15, N9349, at Reno, Nevada. ‘Stippled’ edges. Pub’r: Smith Novelty, Carson City, Nevada; printed by Colourpicture, Boston, no. P305136.

Air West DC-9-31, N9344. ‘Stippled’ edges. Pub’r: Ellis Post Card Co., Arlington, Washington, no. 116593. Air West was formed on 17 April 1968 as a combination of three airlines — West Coast, Bonanza, and Pacific. It was renamed ‘Hughes Airwest’ in July 1970. This aircraft went on to serve in the colors of Hughes Airwest, Republic and Northwest.

West Coast Airlines DC-9. A/I, probably in 1966 when West Coast first acquired DC-9s. Artist postcard. West Coast was founded on 5 December 1946 and became a significant regional airline in the Pacific Northwest.

Bonanza Air Lines Fairchild F-27A ‘Silver Dart’, N149L, over Hoover Dam, Nevada. A/I. Oversize, 4 x 8.5” (10.1 x 21.5cm.). This card was issued attached to another Bonanza postcard showing a DC-9. Bonanza was founded 5 August 1946 and served major cities in Arizona, California, Nevada and Utah.

Pacific Air Lines Boeing 727-100, N2979G. Pub’r: Aviation World, nos. B-025, 77842-D. Pacific was founded in 1941 under the original name of Southwest Airways, the name being changed to Pacific on 6 March 1958. It was mainly a feeder airline serving southwestern U.S. cities.

Southwest Airways Martin 2-0-2, N93049, at Los Angeles International Airport, probably between 1952 and 1958. Published as an airport card by H. S. Crocker Co., Los Angeles, no. LA-1098; distributed by Souvenir Color Card Co.  Southwest Airways was formed in 1941.

To summarize how the world of airline mergers remarkably led Southwest Airways into the Delta family, (a) Southwest’s name was changed to Pacific Air Lines in 1958; (b) Pacific combined with West Coast and Bonanza to form Air West in 1968; (c) Air West’s name changed to Hughes Airwest in 1970; (d) Hughes Airwest merged into Republic (formed by the 1978 combination of North Central and Southern) in 1980; (e) Republic merged into Northwest in 1986; and (f) Northwest merged into Delta in 2009. Quite a voyage!

Lastly, at various times between 1984 and 2012 Delta owned some regional airlines and operated them as ‘Delta Connection’ carriers. These included Atlantic Southeast Airlines, Ransome, Comair and Mesaba/Northwest Airlink.  Today, Delta’s policy is to operate ‘Delta Connection’ services utilizing aircraft owned by other companies.

Atlantic Southeast Airlines (ASA) ‘Delta Connection’ ATR-72-210. A/I, 2002. ASA was founded in 1979 and became a Delta Connection carrier in 1984. From 1999 to 2005 it was wholly-owned by Delta. In 2011 ASA merged with ExpressJet, and ExpressJet is now one of the ‘Delta Connection’ carriers. ASA operated ATR-72 turboprops from 1993 to 2008.

Notes:  The original postcards of those shown are published, except as noted, in standard or continental size.  All postcards shown are from the author’s collection, except the Delta C-46 card. I estimate their rarity as — Rare: the Delta L-10 and C-46 cards, Wisconsin Central L-10A and Southwest Airways at LAX cards; Uncommon: the Delta DC-6, Convair 440, DC-8, Convair 880, and DC-9 ‘pop-up’; C&S Constellation; Northeast 727, Boston-Maine L-10; Pacific Northern 720; Northwest 4-view and 3-view cards; Hughes Airwest DC-9; and West Coast DC-9 cards. The rest are fairly common.

This article is a revision and update of a similar article by the author published in The Captain’s Log of the World Airline Historical Society, Fall 2012 issue.

References:

  1. Davies, R.E.G.

(a)  “Delta: An Airline and Its Aircraft — The Illustrated History of a Major U.S. Airline and the People Who Made It”, Paladwr Press (1990).

(b) “Airlines of the United States since 1914”, Smithsonian Institution Press (1972).

(c) “A History of Airlines in the Jet Age”, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (2011).

  1. Delta Flight Museum Website – deltamuseum.org.
  2. Cearley, George W. (author and publisher), ‘The Delta Family History’, 160 pages (1985).

Airliners International 2019 Atlanta

The annual Airliners International show and convention will be held in 2019 during 19-22 June at the Delta Flight Museum located at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Here is a postcard showing the collecting scene at the previous (2015) Airliners International show in the Delta Flight Museum, with the Delta Boeing 767 ‘The Spirit of Delta’ right inside the show venue.

Airliners International 2015 Atlanta convention in the Delta Flight Museum. Postcard issued by Airliners International 2015 and 2016. Pub’r jjPostcards.

I encourage all airline and airport postcard collectors who are members of the World Airline Historical Society to enter the Airliners International 2019 Postcard Contest in Atlanta, 19-22 June 2019. Postcard contest rules are on the show website, www.airlinersinternational.org.  Whether you win or not, your entries stimulate others to start or expand airline memorabilia collecting, and it’s a great boost for all collectors.

Delta Air Lines ‘Thank You’ postcard in its ‘Keep Climbing’ series, a Delta slogan introduced in 2010. Issued by the airline about 2017. There are at least seven different cards with this view, each saying ‘Thank You’ in a different language — English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, Chinese and Japanese.

Until the next article, thank you for reading, and Happy Collecting.  Marvin.

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