It began as a crop dusting experiment. Today it’s one of the world’s largest airlines.
Back in the 1920s, the Bo Weevil beetle was ravaging the cotton fields of the Southern United States. Overnight the pest was turning farm fields into worthless acreage.
That’s when the U.S. Bureau of Entomology, which studied insects, opened a government laboratory in Louisiana. It was headed by Dr. B.R. Coad, an entomologist, and Collett “C.E.” Woolman, who had an agricultural degree from the University of Illinois.
Woolman was also an aviation enthusiast. He and Dr. Coad thought the fastest way to stop the Bo Weevil invasion was by dusting crops with insecticide (calcium arsenate powder) by air! Aviation was new at the time, and using bi-planes to apply pesticide was a radical idea. But Coad secured funding from Congress to conduct experiments, and in 1925 invited the world’s first crop dusting company, Huff Daland Dusters, of Macon Georgia, to relocate in the Mississippi Delta.
Working with the company, Coad and Woolman perfected crop dusting procedures. The experiments made Huff Daland so profitable, it soon owned the world’s largest private aircraft fleet – 18 specially- built planes. In short order, Woolman joined the business, heading its etymology work.
Crop dusting was seasonal, and when winter came in North America, “dusters” pursued business in South America, where the seasons are reversed. It was there in 1928, that C.E. Woolman first became involved in passenger air service, helping Huff Daland win contracts to carry mail and people in Peru.
Returning to the U.S. Woolman led a team that bought the business,and renamed it Delta Air Services. By 1929 its five-passenger planes were criss- crossing the South from Texas to Georgia.
Over the next twenty years, Delta grew – and Woolman grew with it. He became President in 1945 – a job he kept until the former agricultural agent retired in 1966. (Amazingly Delta was still crop dusting when he left.)
Under Woolman’s leadership, Delta pioneered hub & spoke service (1955), jet aircraft (1959), and complimentary meals in coach — including steaks cooked to order (1959)! Other Delta firsts include air express shipments (1973) no-smoking on all flights (1988), and in-cabin Wi-Fi service.
Today Delta flies more than 100 million passengers a year to destinations on six continents. Hard to believe all that began with a Mississippi Delta crop dusting experiment! But now the name makes sense, doesn’t it?
CE Woolman exemplifies an axiom on our website: Open Your Eyes to New Trends. By harnessing the aviation to control Mississippi Delta pests, this former agricultural agent launched – and led – one of the world’s great airlines: Delta.