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J. Roger Bentley collection of Capital Airlines photographs

1925-2002
 Collection
Identifier: 2018-237

Abstract

Capital Airlines was a commercial airline for the eastern, southern, southeastern, and midwestern United States from 1936 to 1961. It was the fifth largest airline in the United States. The airline was the first to offer service from the west to Washington D.C., coach class service, in-flight television, and jet-powered commercial aircraft. This collection includes materials related to Capital Airlines predecessor company, Clifford Ball Airlines, and materials created under its former name, Pennsylvania Central Airlines. There is also materials related to the Capital Airline Association. The collection documents the history of the airlines, its aircraft and employees.

Dates

  • 1925-2002

Creator

Extent

10 Linear Feet

General Physical Description

756 photographic prints : b&w ; 8 x 10 in. 471 photographic prints : b&w ; 5 x 7 in. or smaller. 2 photographic prints : color ; 11 x 14 in. 21 photographic prints : color ; 8 x 10 in. 160 photographic prints : color ; 4 x 6 in. or smaller. 87 transparencies : color ; 4 x 5 in. 22 slides : color ; 35mm. 232 negatives : b&w ; 4 x 5 in. or smaller. 27 negatives : color ; 35mm. 82 postcards. 700 textual items. 2 audio cassette tapes. 1 reel (100 ft) : si., col. ; 16mm. 1 pin. 1 bar of soap.

Historical Note

Capital Airlines was a commercial airline for the eastern, southern, southeastern, and midwestern United States from 1936 to 1961. In the 1950s, it was the fifth largest airline in the United States. The airline was the first to offer service from the west to Washington D.C., coach class service, in-flight television, and jet-powered commercial aircraft.

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.

Arrangement

This collection includes materials related to Capital Airlines predecessor company, Clifford Ball Airlines, and materials created under its former name, Pennsylvania Central Airlines. There is also materials related to the Capital Airline Association. The collection is arranged into four series by company name. The collection documents the history of the airlines, its aircraft and employees.

Scope and Content

Clifford Ball Airlines series is a small amount of materials, mostly photographs and few brochures and newspapers clippings dating from 1925 to 1930. There are images of the airplanes Miss Pittsburgh and Miss Youngstown and a few views of Bettis Field. Of note is a group portrait of Clifford Ball with the ten other people awarded the first air mail contracts. There are photographs of the Miss Pittsburgh restored and on display at the Pittsburgh International Airport in 1995. There are also two 1930 group portraits of Penn School of Aviation basketball team, featuring pilots that would continue to work for Pennsylvania Central Airlines and Capital Airlines.

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.

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research.

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.

Related Material

The Charles Baptie photograph collection (MSS C0032), George Mason University. Special Collections and Archives.

Papers of Clifford Ball (MSS #12), Detre Library & Archives, Heinz History Center.

Language of Materials

English


Additional Information

Additional Description

Provenance

J. Roger Bentley is an aviation enthusiast, and former employee of Capital Airlines. Although he only worked for the company for three months, he was an active member of the Capital Airlines Association. The materials in this collection were given to Bentley from other Capital Airlines Association members over a period of many years.

Separated Material

Roger Bentley Airline Industry Collection: books and industry publications (Accession 20180510.RB), Published Collections Department, Hagley Museum and Library.

Photographs

Charles Baptie (1914-2000) was the company photographer of Capital Airlines. He had worked at the company since it began as Pennsylvania Central Airlines in 1936 and left when it merged with United Airlines in 1961. He then formed his own photography studio called Charles Baptie Studios. Many of the photographs in this collection were taken by Charles Baptie. The archivist has made every attempt to credit Baptie with his photographs, however, not all are marked, but are very possibly taken by him.

Related Names

Creator

Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Title:
J. Roger Bentley collection of Capital Airlines photographs
Status:
Online
Author:
Laurie Sather
Date:
2019.
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
English
Script of description:
Latin

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Audiovisual Collections Repository

Contact:
PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA
302-658-2400