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FORD DEALER STARTS OWN AIRLINE

IT SEEMS improbable today, but a car dealer starting his own airline was a sound business model back in 1927. The country was abuzz with Lucky Lindy’s transatlantic solo, Jack L. Maddux had a thriving Ford and Lincoln dealership in Los Angeles, and he recognized Los Angeles to San Diego, a 125-mile trip, as a profitable air route—in a Ford Tri-motor, naturally.

Jack hired Larry Fritz as the perfect chief pilot. Fritz had been flying Ford Tri-motors for the Stout Air Line back east. William Bushnell Stout had designed the Tri-motor for Henry Ford in 1926.

Jack Maddux, left, and his chief pilot, Larry Fritz. This and other images from Los Angeles Aeronautics 1920-1929,compiled by D.D. Hatfield, Northrup University Press, 1973.

According to D.D. Hatfield’s Los Angeles Aeronautics, Maddux Air Lines began operation on July 21, 1927, just two months after Charles Lindbergh’s New York/Paris solo. The inaugural flight of the Maddux Ford 4-AT carried 12 passengers. It traveled from a dirt strip, Inglewood Site (now within LAX), to another one near San Diego’s Dutch Flat (where Lindbergh had picked up his Spirit of St. Louis from the Ryan Airlines plant, the site adjacent to today’s San Diego International Airport/Lindbergh Field).

A Ford Tri-motor, piloted by Charles Lindbergh, takes off from Los Angeles for Maddux Air Lines’ inaugural San Diego trip, July 21, 1927.

Later Maddux Los Angeles hubs included Rogers Airport (having been opened in 1918 as Charlie Chaplin’s Chaplin Aerodrome) and Glendale’s Grand Central Air Terminal (now part of Disney’s Grand Central Creative Campus).

The original Maddux schedule had one round trip daily, leaving Los Angeles at 10:30 a.m. and arriving in San Diego 1 hour 15 minutes later. The return trip left San Diego at 3:00 p.m. and arrived in Los Angeles at 4:10 p.m. The fare each way was $15, perhaps $212 in today’s dollar. By contrast, a 1927 Los Angeles/San Diego train ride took perhaps 3 hours and cost around $3.60.

By the end of July 1927, Maddux Air Lines had carried 128 passengers. August added another 228; September, 264. The next year, the airline grew from two Tri-motors to 13 of them, two Lockheed Vegas and a pair of Travel Airs. A total of 9445 passengers flew 386,736 miles.

When the German airship Graf Zeppelin visited Los Angeles in August, 1929, Maddux Air Lines offered a wondrous view for only $5.

Jack Maddux recognized the value of publicity and advertised famous aviators associated with his airline. Charles Lindbergh was a Maddux consultant and, according to D.D. Hatfield, piloted the inaugural flights as well. Humorist Will Rogers was an aviation enthusiast who enjoyed chatting with Maddux pilots.

At left, Charles Lindbergh was a Maddux Air Lines consultant and piloted the inaugural flights. Humorist Will Rogers was a fan of the airline.

Maddux Air Lines expanded its itinerary in 1928 by adding passenger service from Los Angeles to San Francisco, with scheduled stops in Fresno and Oakland. Ask the pilot in advance, and he’d set down in Bakersfield or Visalia.

A Maddux Ford Tri-motor on the Los Angeles-San Francisco route.

That same year, the airline also added regular hops from San Diego to Tijuana’s Agua Caliente Casino. Wealthy Americans, including Hollywood types, were attracted there by the casino’s gambling and booze.

This was during U.S. Prohibition, but the casino’s success was short-lived: In 1935, Mexican President Lázaro Cádenas outlawed gambling, the place was transformed into a state-run school named in his honor, and it eventually fell into disrepair.

In time, Maddux Air Lines routes extended from San Francisco to El Paso.

Long before the casino closure, though, in 1929 Maddux linked up with TAT, Transcontinental Air Transport. For six months, its aircraft carried dual logo. Then, in November 1929, TAT bought out Maddux.

In 1930, TAT merged with former competitor Western Air Express to form Transcontinental & Western Air (T&WA) which later became TWA, Trans World Airlines. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017

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