History of United Airlines
United Airlines aircraft have soared through the skies for more than 70 years. Initially used to transport U.S. mail, the planes soon took on a few adventurous passengers. In a matter of years, air travel was embraced by the general public, creating a demand for larger, faster, more luxurious aircraft.
By 1914 aviation technology was sophisticated enough to make airplanes valuable wartime tools. In 1918, the U.S. government
found an important peacetime role for aviation: delivering mail. Entrepreneur Walter T. Varney launched his U.S. "air mail" operation April 6, 1926, marking the birth of commercial aviation in the United States. Because Varney was a predecessor of United, it also marked the birth of the airline.
With the advent of larger aircraft, such as the Boeing and Ford trimotors, came stewardess service. Boeing Air Transport employee, Steve Stimpson, took the suggestion of nurse Ellen Church. He proposed that nurses serve coffee and sandwiches and minister to the comfort of apprehensive flyers.
As aviation matured, airlines
, aircraft manufacturers and airport operators merged into giant corporations. When cries of "monopoly" arose, the conglomerates dismantled.
Few things escaped the shadow cast by World War II, and the aviation industry was no exception. For 60 wearisome months, United put aside its quest for growth and
profitability and took on a new responsibility: serving the U.S. military
. United modified its aircraft for war, trained ground crews and flew thousands of missions to Alaska and across the Pacific to transport soldiers and supplies.
The post-war economic boom that swept the United States included a strong demand for air travel. President William A. Patterson responded by expanding United's workforce, acquiring new routes and purchasing United's first jet aircraft. This strategy, along with the 1961 merger with Capital Airlines, solidified United's industry leadership and made the company the world's largest commercial airline. The end of World War II brought a brief period of euphoria to the war-weary people of the United States. Rationing was over, business and industry were back to a peacetime mode, and the nation was feeling the feverish excitement of the boom times economists had predicted.
But while the forecasters were correct in their predictions, none came close to foretelling the suddenness and intensity with which the boom would thrust itself upon the nation, particularly upon the air transport industry. Airline fares had been reduced 10 percent since 1941, making it cheaper in many cases to travel by air than by rail.
United's fortunes changed in 1970 when the company posted a loss of $47 million just two years after making record profits. The company ran through a string of six presidents between 1970 and 1989 and changed its name twice as it fluctuated between further diversification and a return to its core airline business. Adding to the turbulence
was United's purchase of Pan Am's Pacific Division and the deregulation of U.S. airlines.
As the 20th century drew to a close, United redefined itself. Now operating in a deregulated environment, the company inaugurated service to Europe and South America and expanded its number of Pacific Rim destinations. United also adopted a new livery and logo befitting a global airline. Most important, United established its Employee Stock Ownership Plan, creating the world's largest majority employee-owned company in the world.
As it flies into the new millennium, United continues to lead commercial aviation. Shuttle by United, launched in 1994, competes successfully against a new wave of low-cost carriers. Star Alliance, a global partnership formed in 1997 by United and four international carriers, continues to grow and expand United's reach. A company priority is customer satisfaction and living up to its new slogan: "Rising."