Origins of the Wedell-Williams Air Service

Stop 1 of 6 in the Wedell-Williams Airport in Patterson tour

In 1928, Harry Williams, the lumber man and former mayor of Patterson, LA, met Menefee Airways pilot James Wedell and received flying lessons from him. The two instantly became friends despite their highly dissimilar backgrounds.

Wedell came from a Texas working class family. From an early age, Wedell showed a capacity for building engines, having completed his first one as a teenager. A motorcycle accident caused him to land face first into a pile of oyster shells, making him blind in one eye and disqualifying him from flying in World War I. A barnstormer taught Wedell how to fly, and he became a barnstormer. When his brother Walter left the military after World War I, he joined Jimmie in barnstorming. The Wedells began to work for James Menefee, a car salesman in New Orleans, at his airport in St. Bernard Parish.

Williams was born and raised in Patterson, the son of wealthy lumber man Frank B. Williams, who was known as "the cypress king." After serving in World War I, Harry Williams worked for the cypress company and developed a love for speed, whether it was fast cars or fast boats. He married silent screen star Marguerite Clark, and they had a comfortable life together. After watching Jimmy fly, Williams saw the airplane’s potential for speed. Wedell ignited in Williams a passion for aviation and a desire to promote it. Wedell’s ideas for building faster airplanes fascinated Williams, and he gave Wedell his financial support. In May of 1929, the Wedell-Williams Air Service came into existence.

Images

Patterson:  The Birthplace of Champion Planes

Patterson: The Birthplace of Champion Planes

This Sanborn Map from 1912 shows several cypress mills in Patterson, but the town would become famous for more than cypress and sugar cane. Racing planes made this town known to pilots such as Jimmy Doolittle and Amelia Earhart. Image Courtesy of the Wedell-Williams Memorial Foundation and the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

Harry P. Williams

Harry P. Williams

He put his complete trust in Wedell to fund the air service. Though only the Vice-President, Williams was the majority stockholder. Image Courtesy of the E.F. Newman Collection, Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans View File Details Page

F.B. William's Cypress Lumber Mill

F.B. William's Cypress Lumber Mill

Harry Williams inherited his father's mill, which provided the resources to start the Air Service. Image Courtesy of the Wedell-Williams Memorial Foundation and the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

Jimmie Wedell

Jimmie Wedell

Wedell's and Williams's meeting in 1928 led to the creation of the air service. This company would bring Patterson in close proximity to New Orleans, Shreveport, Houston, and other cities. Image courtesy of the Wedell-Williams Memorial Foundation and the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Teresa M. Thessen, “Origins of the Wedell-Williams Air Service,” New Orleans Historical, accessed March 28, 2017, http://neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/686.

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