by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Almost five years ago, this blog featured a short post about early commercial air travel in greater Los Angeles and highlighted a pamphlet from the museum’s collection issued by one of the first companies to operate in the region, Maddux Air Lines. As noted then, the company was formed by Jack Maddux, a local car dealer, whose aviation enterprise was launched in summer 1927 and the first flight of which took to the air soon afterward, with service to San Francisco inaugurated the following spring.
By mid-1929, the Maddux firm had sixteen crafts in its fleet and offered flights to several California destinations, as well as Phoenix and some locales in Baja California. A partnership then developed with Transcontinental Air Transport, a line founded in 1928 and which counted famed aviator Charles Lindbergh and movie star couple Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. as investors.
TAT-Maddux organized not long before the stock market crash of late October 1929 and the following year, Western Air Express, another early entrant in commercial flight, merged with TAT-Maddux as the newly christened Transcontinental and Western Airlines, better known after 1950 as Trans-World Airlines, or TWA, which merged with American Airlines a half-century later.
Maddux was born in July 1888 in Anniston, Alabama and migrated with his family to California early in the 20th century. He lived in San Diego and Oakland as well as Los Angeles and claimed to have built the first limousine in the west when he was just 14 years old by putting the body of a hack (a horse-drawn carriage) on a single-cylinder French Isotta.
Maddux was an early professional race car driver in California. He also was a mechanic and was part of a family-owned garage for some years before he became a car dealer. He sold Stearns-Knight automobiles in the early 1920s and then used cars such as Packards, Lincolns and Cadillacs by mid-decade. He was also the sole authorized dealer of the Lincoln at his Maddux, Inc. showroom located on Figueroa at Tenth near today’s Staples Center before he opened his airlines, using craft built in Detroit by the Ford Motor Corporation and headquartered ten blocks south of his car dealership.
The new aviation firm was heavily promoted and sales of company stock also pushed by local brokers as Maddux added lines and craft in its fleet. The company initially flew out of Rogers Field at Wilshire and Fairfax in west Los Angeles and then from the newly built Grand Central Air Terminal next to the Los Angeles River in Glendale.
On the date these snapshots were taken, 16 March 1929, there was an innovation involving Maddux and the new airport as nighttime landings were tested with special floodlights and searchlights installed by a Hollywood man. A trio of Maddux craft came in from Tijuana, where service was recently inaugurated with access to the Agua Caliente Casino (alcohol, naturally, was available over the border from Prohibition-era California).
The following month the company’s first major disaster occurred when a Maddux craft collided with a military plane at 2,000 feet over San Diego, resulting in the deaths of the five persons in the former and the pilot of the latter. Despite this, the merger with TAT was announced in June and flights connecting craft owned by the companies began by the fall of 1929 and the combined company names introduced that November.
The TAT-Maddux combination allowed for a wider network of flights throughout the United States and a traveler could fly from Los Angeles to New York, albeit with eight stops, including in New Mexico, Oklahoma, Missouri, Indiana and Ohio. Still, this was a major transformation in commercial air travel in just a couple of years and this would be further enhanced with the evolution into the Transcontinental and Western Airlines firm early in the Thirties.
The photos highlighted here were taken in San Diego, probably what was then known as San Diego Municipal Airport-Lindbergh Field, which opened in summer 1928. One of the images shows the entirety of the Maddux craft with the company name and location toward the rear of the fuselage and the Ford name on the tail. Two other crafts, presumably also Maddux planes are to the right. About fifteen persons stand on the dirt field near the craft, including a trio of sailors at the center.
The second snapshot is a close-up of the plane, with the captain shown through the cockpit window, the identification number under the wing, and passengers visible through the cabin windows. The steps to board the craft can be seen at the bottom of the fuselage. In both images the motor blades are whirring as the plane was readying to taxi and then take off, though whether this returning to Los Angeles or heading for another destination, likely in Baja California, is not known.
Maddux did not live long after his firm merged with the others and died in New York City in July 1937. Previously married with a stepdaughter and a namesake son, Maddux wedded Rowena Wright just a few years before his death and the couple had a son. Rowena was the twin sister of Roberta McCain, mother of the late Arizona senator and 2008 presidential candidate, John McCain.
These images are interesting examples of artifacts from the Homestead’s collection related to early aviation in greater Los Angeles, specifically one of the pioneer airlines as the aviation industry rapidly expanded during the late 1920s.