J. Roger Bentley collection of Capital Airlines photographs1925-2002
- Pennsylvania Central Airlines (Organization)
- Capital Airlines (Organization)
- Bentley, J. Roger, 1932-2020 (Collector, Person)
10 Linear Feet
General Physical Description
Capital Airlines can trace its roots back to the Clifford Ball Airline which operated out of Pittsburgh’s Bettis Field Airport. The Clifford Ball Airline was established in 1926 by Clifford Ball (1892-1972), who founded the country’s first air mail service and a pioneer of commercial aviation.
On April 26, 1927 the first air mail flew from Bettis Field to Cleveland. In 1928, Clifford Ball Airlines began a passenger service. In 1929, Ball coined the phrase “Path of the Eagle” and began a passenger route from Cleveland to Washington. Clifford Ball Airline was sold to Pittsburgh Aviation Industries Corp (PAIC) in 1930, and became Pennsylvania Air Lines.
Due to the Air Mail Scandal of 1934, the company went through a number of changes. By 1935, C. Bedell Monro (1901-1972) was President. The company received an air mail contract and went on to recover from the scandal. Another company also received an air mail contract in the same region, Central Airlines. The two airlines competed in vigorous price wars and both began to suffer financially. In 1936, Pennsylvania Air Lines and Central Airlines merged becoming, Pennsylvania Central Airlines (PCA). Bedell remained President of the company.
In 1941, PCA moved its headquarters to Washington D.C. and therefore dubbed its fleet as “The Capital Fleet” and “Capitaliners”. During World War II, the company experienced significant expansion and growth. After the war the company began to suffer financially again.
Monro resigned from PCA in October of 1947 and James H. “Slim” Carmichael (1907-1983) was named his successor. Monro stated it was “grave difference of opinion” over the company's management that prompted his resignation.
Carmichael was a former barnstormer, stunt flier, crop duster and an early airmail pilot. He learned to fly at the age of nineteen. He had been with the company since the beginning. Carmichael is credited with rescuing the airline from bankruptcy when taking over as President and reorganizing the company under its new name. In early 1947, PCA unofficially changed its name in advertisements to Capital and designed a new logo, however, the name change wasn’t approved by the CAB (Civil Aeronautics Board) until April of 1948.
In November 1948, the Nighthawk service began. It was a four cent-a-mile nightly air service between New York and Chicago. It was a “coach” class, no frills flight. There were no meals, pillows, blankets, or other amenities, which made it very cost-effective for passengers. The service was a successful and profitable for Capital Airlines. After long use of the DC-3 and DC-4 aircrafts, Capital Airlines invested heavily in British-built jet and prop-jet airliners. In 1955, the company purchased forty Vickers Viscounts. These were the first commercial passenger prop-jet airliner. Capital Airlines went on to own sixty-seven Viscounts.
Carmichael resigned in 1958 for “personal reasons” with no further comment from Capital or Carmichael. He was replaced by a retired U.S. Air Force Major General, David Hodges Baker III (1907-2003).
By the late 1950s, the company began to falter due to increased debt. In 1958, Capital employees went on strike for a month. In 1958 to 1960, they had five aircraft accidents. In 1960, Vickers-Armstrong filed a foreclosure suit on the entire Capital Airlines Viscount fleet. In August 1960, a merger of Capital and United was proposed. On June 1, 1961, United Airlines purchased Capital Airlines and took over its Viscount fleet.
In 1981, the former employees of Capital Airlines founded the Capital Airlines Association. The association had approximately 1,500 members and held an annual picnic. The last picnic was held in 2004 and the association disbanded due to decline in membership.
Scope and Content
Pennsylvania Central series is organized into two subseries: Publications and Photographs. Publications subseries consists of annual reports, flight schedules, employee booklets/manuals, advertisements/brochures, and several issues of the employee newsletter: PCA News. There is also ephemera such as stickers, postcards, and passenger tickets. These materials date from 1929 to 1947.
The Photographs subseries is mainly images of airplanes and employees. There are images of mechanics in shops working on planes, as well as, pilots and flight attendants. There are also publicity photographs of notable passengers such as movie stars, politicians, and athletes. There are some images related to crashes or accidents. The photographs date from 1930 to 1947, there are a few photographs from the 1950s and 1965 that were with other photographs and kept together.
Capital Airlines series is organized into two subseries: Publications and Photographs. The Publications subseries consists of annual reports, mailers; brochures, advertisements, and ephemera such as greeting cards, wallet calendars, postcards, stickers, and luggage tags. There are a few flight schedules and flight kits, and aircraft Incident Reports. There is also reminiscences. These materials date from 1940 to 1961.
The Photographs subseries is mainly images of airplanes, pilots and flight attendants, but not many of mechanics or ground crew. There are publicity photographs of notable passengers such as movie stars, politicians, and athletes. The photographs date from 1946 to 1961. There are a few photographs from the 1990s that were with other images and kept together.
Capital Airlines Association series contains member lists and several newsletters which date from 1983 to 1987 and 1990 to 1991. There is some correspondence from Bentley to other association members. The series mostly consists of photographs from the annual picnics attended by former Capital Airline employees and their families. Annual picnic photographs date from 1981 to 1985 and 1989 to 1993, and 1999 and 2002. There are also articles about the annual picnic.
Film based materials are stored offsite in cold storage and must reacclimate prior to viewing (Box 15 and Film Can 1). Please contact the Audiovisual Collections and Digital Initiatives Department at least 48 hours in advance of research visit.
Language of Materials
Finding Aid & Administrative Information
- J. Roger Bentley collection of Capital Airlines photographs
- Laurie Sather
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