Wedell-Williams Air Service Goes Coast to Coast

Stop 5 of 7 in the Wedell-Williams Airport in Jefferson Parish tour

The Wedell-Williams Air Service clearly took little time to establish itself in New Orleans. In July 1929, two months after Wedell and Williams founded the company, Wedell inaugurated a route to St. Louis, MO. In the same month, the air service opened a line from New Orleans to Shreveport, establishing an airport there as well.

When the Great Depression began in November 1929, the air service had to downsize, but it managed to expand the New Orleans–Shreveport route to include Dallas and Fort Worth. By July 1, 1930, a line to Houston opened through Patterson and Beaumont, TX. The company could not evade the debilitating effects of the Great Depression for long, though. By the end of 1931, the air service discontinued air transportation altogether in favor of building and racing planes.

One of the problems for the air service besides the bad economic environment was the contention for mail routes. In early 1931, the air service failed to attain a mail route and had to shrink the air service even more. Many small airlines had problems securing airmail contracts, and some of them accused the Postal Service of unfair practices.

President Franklin Roosevelt tried to resolve this issue, which became known as the Air Mail Scandal, on February 9, 1934 by issuing an executive order to cancel all airmail contracts in favor of the military. This move proved disastrous, for the military pilots did not know the routes and often crashed. Ultimately, the airmail routes reverted to civilian hands with the condition that all previous holders of government contracts would not receive consideration. This allowed previously ignored air services to secure airmail contracts. The Wedell-Williams Air Service would eventually obtain a mail route from New Orleans to Houston.

During that brief hiatus from transportation, the air service focused on what had made their reputation: building and racing planes. Jimmie Wedell, Jimmy Haizlip, his wife Mary Haizlip, and Roscoe Turner attained fame flying in Wedell’s designs. Wedell and Turner flew in races before 1932 and won some awards, but in the 1932 racing season, the air service had its dream team.

1933 was the height of Wedell’s aviation career, breaking numerous records and winning numerous races. The year also saw the re-establishment of transportation lines to Texas, which carried people and mail to Houston and connecting flights across the country. The Air Service remained a local business, but it gained a national reach.

Images

Bringing NOLA Closer to the Rest of the Country

Bringing NOLA Closer to the Rest of the Country

By the mid-1930s, the Wedell-Williams Air Service brought New Orleans closer to cities like Houston and San Antonio, and through connecting flights, cities like New York and Chicago. Image Courtesy of the Wedell-Williams Memorial Foundation and the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

Jimmie Wedell's Early Work

Jimmie Wedell's Early Work

The #22's design is similar to many of Wedell's early works, which did not prove as successful as the #44 in air races. Some design elements remained in all of Wedell's planes. The #22 is on display at the Louisiana State Museum in Patterson. Image Courtesy of the Wedell-Williams Memorial Foundation and the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

"Hot as a '44' and Twice as Fast"

"Hot as a '44' and Twice as Fast"

The #44 was easily recognizable by the bright red paint job, but it also had the above caption with a pistol on the side of the fuselage. Image Courtesy of the Wedell-Williams Memorial Foundation and the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

1931 Thompson Race: Doolittle's Gee Bee vs. Wedell's #44

1931 Thompson Race: Doolittle's Gee Bee vs. Wedell's #44

This sketch depicts the #44 just behind the Gee Bee in the lead. The #44 is currently on display at the Wedell-Williams Aviation Museum in Patterson. Image Courtesy of the Wedell-Williams Memorial Foundation and the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

1932 Bendix-Winner Jimmy Haizlip and the #92

1932 Bendix-Winner Jimmy Haizlip and the #92

Right after Haizlip won the trophy, his wife, Mary, used the plane to break the women's landspeed record. The #92 is on display at the Louisiana State Museum in Patterson. Image courtesy of the Wedell-Williams Memorial Foundation and the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

The 1933 Thompson Trophy

The 1933 Thompson Trophy

Wedell won this in the Cleveland National Air Races after the judges disqualified Roscoe Turner, who flew the Wedell-Williams #121, for cutting a pylon. This and other air race trophies can be seen at the Louisiana State Museum in Patterson. Image Courtesy of the Wedell-Williams Memorial Foundation and the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

Breaking the World Speed Record

Breaking the World Speed Record

Wedell hit the height of his career in 1933, even landing on the cover of Aviation Magazine. Image courtesy of the Wedell-Williams Memorial Foundation and the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

The #45, to debut at the Pan-American Air Races

The #45, to debut at the Pan-American Air Races

No matter how the transportation business fluctuated, the company still built fast planes. This is the blueprint of the #45, which would not gain the same fame as the #44. The plane is currently on display at the Louisiana State Museum in Patterson. Image courtesy of the Wedell-Williams Memorial Foundation and the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

The 1934 Pan-American Air Races at the Shushan Airport

The 1934 Pan-American Air Races at the Shushan Airport

The #45 debuted at these races and broke the 100km event speed record in front of racers from Louisiana and parts of Latin America. Image courtesy of the Wedell-Williams Memorial Foundation and the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Teresa M. Thessen, “Wedell-Williams Air Service Goes Coast to Coast,” New Orleans Historical, accessed April 30, 2017, http://neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/684.

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