End of the Wedell-Williams Air Service

Stop 6 of 7 in the Wedell-Williams Airport in Jefferson Parish tour

The Air Service hit its height in 1933 and 1934, but it experienced a period of decline partially due to the construction of the Shushan Airport in November 1933. The air service took a bigger hit with the death of Jimmy Wedell in June 1934. His plane crashed during a training flight not far from the airport in Patterson, crushing his skull and killing him instantly. The air service lost its vice president and major creative mind. Wedell held the world speed record at the time of his death.

The air service would lose another major creative mind with the death of Jimmy’s brother, Walter Wedell, in a plane crash in July 1935. He and a passenger went down in the Gulf of Mexico. The circumstances of the crash remain mysterious.

The final death-knell of the air service was the death of Harry Williams, the president, majority stockholder, and biggest financial supporter. His plane went down just outside of Baton Rouge, killing both him and John Worthen, a Wedell-Williams pilot. Williams's wife, Marguerite Clark Williams, assumed presidency of the company, but falling revenues and competition with the Shushan Airport (now the New Orleans Lakefront Airport) left an opening for other aviation companies to buy the air service. Eastern Airlines, in particular, was interested in buying the air service to take possession of the airmail route from New Orleans to Houston, which would allow Eastern Airlines to break into the Texas market and take possession of the air service’s fleet of airplanes. By 1937, Mrs. Williams sold the company to Eastern Airlines’s general manager, Eddie Rickenbacker, thus ending the Wedell-Williams Air Service.

Images

Moving to the Shushan Airport

Moving to the Shushan Airport

The Shushan Airport was closer to the heart of New Orleans, giving it the edge over the Wedell-Williams Airport. After the air service moved, the Jefferson Airport became an emergency landing field. Image courtesy of the Wedell-Williams Memorial Foundation and the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

Jimmy Wedell's Funeral Procession in NOLA

Jimmy Wedell's Funeral Procession in NOLA

Hundreds of New Orleanians viewed the procession before the body finally came to its final resting place in West Columbia, TX. Image courtesy of the Times-Picayune View File Details Page

The Loss of Walter Wedell in 1935

The Loss of Walter Wedell in 1935

When the authorities found the plane in the Gulf of Mexico, they found the passenger at the controls. They could not explain why Wedell was not there. Image courtesy of the Wedell Williams Memorial Foundation and the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

Eastern Airlines Enters the Southern Market

Eastern Airlines Enters the Southern Market

Eddie Rickenbacker, World War I ace and general manager of Eastern Airlines, bought out the Wedell-Williams Air Service to break into the southern market. Image courtesy of the E.F. Newman Collection, Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans View File Details Page

The James R. Wedell Monument in NOLA

The James R. Wedell Monument in NOLA

The city dedicated this monument on Canal Blvd. and City Park Ave. in 1935. Even today, it honors Louisiana's speedster. Image courtesy of the Wedell-Williams Memorial Foundation and the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Teresa M. Thessen, “End of the Wedell-Williams Air Service,” New Orleans Historical, accessed April 30, 2017, http://neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/685.

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