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Collett E. Woolman
Collett E. Woolman
|Born||October 8, 1889
|Died||September 11, 1966 (1966-09-12) (aged 76)
|Known for||Principal founder, chairman and first CEO of Delta Air Lines|
Collett Everman Woolman (October 8, 1889 – September 11, 1966), commonly known as C.E. Woolman, airline entrepreneur who led Delta Air Lines from its beginnings as a small, pioneering crop-dusting company to the Jet Age. He was committed to customer service and the "Delta difference": "There is only about two percent difference between success and failure — and that two percent is the determination and singleness of purpose that makes us do things. Without it, we are just another airline — with it, nothing can stop us."
Delta Air Lines
Shortly after graduating from college, Woolman became an Agricultural Extension Agent at Louisiana State University. At the time, the Southern United States was battling a cotton-destroying pest, the boll weevil. Woolman observed the work of entomologist B.R. Coad, at the United States Department of Agriculture lab in Tallulah, Louisiana. Coad and his team used airplanes and pilots on loan from the Army to develop improved methods of applying calcium arsenate to rid cotton plants of boll weevils. Huff-Daland Aero Corporation, an aircraft manufacturer, took notice of their experiments and decided to form a new subsidiary for crop dusting, founded on March 2, 1925 in Macon, Georgia. In May 1925, Woolman joined the new division, called Huff Daland Dusters, as chief entomologist responsible for selling this experimental service. That summer, the headquarters were moved to Monroe, Louisiana, and their fleet grew to 18 crop dusters, the largest private aircraft fleet at the time.
The need for crop dusting dramatically decreased when the summer growing season ended. To compensate, Woolman expanded dusting operations in early 1927 to Peru where the seasons are reversed from the U.S. While in Peru, Woolman began passenger air service in 1928, utilizing a unique agreement with Peruvian Airways Corporation. Although the arrangement did not last long, Woolman took the experience back to Louisiana.
Back in Monroe, the parent company, now known as Keystone Aircraft Corp. was seeking to sell off its subsidiary. Woolman and banker Travis Oliver led local investors to purchase Huff Daland Dusters assets. The new company was incorporated as Delta Air Service on December 3, 1928, named after the Mississippi Delta region it served. Woolman was vice president and general manager.
Passenger service began on June 17, 1929, from Dallas, Texas, to Jackson, Mississippi, with stops at Shreveport and Monroe, Louisiana. By June 1930, service had expanded east to Atlanta and west to Fort Worth, Texas.
Passenger operations ceased in October 1930 when the air mail contract for the route Delta had pioneered was awarded to another airline, which purchased the assets of Delta Air Service. Local banker Travis Oliver, acting as trustee, C.E. Woolman and other local investors purchased back the crop-dusting assets of Delta Air Service and incorporated as Delta Air Corporation on December 31, 1930. Woolman was a member of the board of directors for Delta Air Service, and again when Delta Air Corporation formed its board in 1930.
Delta secured an air mail contract and returned to airline operations in 1934. Doing business as Delta Air Lines over Mail Route 24, stretching from Ft. Worth, Texas, to Charleston, South Carolina. The company name officially changed to Delta Air Lines in 1945. Although Delta Air Lines kept a crop-dusting division until 1966, by 1938 expanding airmail and passenger service operations begin earning more than crop-dusting profits.
Over the next several decades, Woolman led Delta Air Lines as general manager, becoming president in 1945. He was named Delta's chairman and chief executive officer from November 1, 1965 until his death on September 11, 1966.
A retired Delta pilot recalls one encounter with Woolman:
One additional gentleman and his wife were traveling in first class ATL- DCA with a stop in CLT while I was a brand new Flight Engineer on a DC-7. After landing in CLT, the agent came and told the Captain that we were oversold and he had to take one passenger off. The gentleman standing in the cockpit talking with us told the agent that he would give up his seat and take the early flight out the next morning to DCA. After leaving the cockpit and going back to tell his wife, he got off and stood by the gate (chain link fence actually). After starting those big old Wright 3350's I leaned forward and looked out of the Captain's window to see Mr. C. E. Woolman, Principal Founder and President of Delta Air Lines, standing there waving goodbye to us.
Between college semesters in 1909, Woolman attended the world's first aviation meet in Rheims, France, where his passion for aviation began.
He graduated from the University of Illinois, where he received a Bachelor of Arts in agriculture. Woolman married Helen H. Fairfield in 1916 with whom he had two daughters. By 1920, they had moved to Monroe in northeastern Louisiana.
Following his death, several memorials have been made in his honor. A reconditioned 1925 Huff Daland Duster was presented to the Smithsonian Institution by employees of Delta. Another memorial sits at the entrance to Delta's Technical Operations Center in Atlanta. In 1992 he was inducted into the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame. In 1994 he was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
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- Field, Katherine M., ed. (1979), From Travel Air To Tristar: The First Fifty Years of Delta Air Lines, Miami, FL: Halsey Publishing Co.
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