This Month in NC – Piedmont Airlines’ First Passenger Flight, February 1948


Take flight into our most recent installment of This Month in North Carolina, which discusses the origins of Piedmont Airlines in Winston-Salem, NC.  Tobacco and aviation are linked more closely than I’d ever imagined!

Piedmont Airlines’ inaugural passenger flight took place on Friday, February 20, 1948 at around 7 a.m.  It left Wilmington, made several stops along the way to Cincinnati, OH, and then made the return trip home. 

The photo above is from the Hugh Morton Collection of Photographs and Film, and shows two of Pidemont Airlines’ DC-3s parked in a WWII hangar they were using as a base.  The photo is dated to ca. 1948, the same year as their first passenger flight.

February 1948: Piedmont Airlines’ First Passenger Flight

This Month in North Carolina History

Postcard of View of a Piedmont Airlines plane at Fayetteville's Municipal Airport, ca. 1953.
View of a Piedmont Airlines plane at Fayetteville’s Municipal Airport, ca. 1953.

Thomas H. Davis was born in Winston-Salem in 1918, and grew up in a family of successful businessmen. His father worked as an executive for R. J. Reynolds Tobacco, a relationship that would later be crucial for the story of Davis’s own success story and for commercial aviation in Winston-Salem. Davis had an interest in planes and aviation from a young age and began taking flight lessons on the sly when he was 15 or 16 years old at the Winston-Salem Airport.

In 1939, Davis began working as a salesman for the Camel City Flying Service, an aviation company owned by R.J. Reynolds, Jr. As a salesman, Davis’s job was to fly planes to potential customers. He enjoyed the work so much that he put his college career on hold to take a full-time job with company. Camel City Flying Service was in debt, and Reynolds had a vested interest in its success. At the time, he was gearing up to run for mayor of Winston-Salem, and wanted to see his town and companies do well. Furthermore, North Carolina was a major manufacturing center for textiles, tobacco, and furniture, but was cut off from the distribution centers in the Midwest. Reynolds offered to sell the Camel City Flying Service to Davis if he could bring the company out of debt. He did, and in 1940, the company was reincorporated under the name of Piedmont Aviation. At the time, Davis was only 22 years old.

During World War II, most of Piedmont Aviation’s business came from training pilots and flight instructors – it’s estimated that they trained more than 1,000 pilots. As the war was winding down, the military took over responsibility for training pilots and instructors, and Piedmont Aviation quickly set into motion plans to re-envision itself as a passenger airline.

Piedmont applied to the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) in 1944 for a contract that would recognize them as a feeder airline operating passenger, mail, and cargo routes to many North Carolina towns, as well as branching out for a few longer trips. So many companies applied for this contract that it took the CAB several years to make their decision. Although Piedmont Airlines was awarded the contract in 1947, their initial service was held back by competition from other small airlines, including State Airlines, a company based in Charlotte. State Airlines petitioned the CAB with a similar service plan, but was not awarded the contract. They brought a case to the Supreme Court that took several months to iron out before deciding in favor of Piedmont Airlines.

Photograph with View of Piedmont Airlines' DC-3s in a hangar in Wilmington, NC, ca. 1948.
View of Piedmont Airlines’ DC-3s in a hangar in Wilmington, NC, ca. 1948.

Four years after submitting their application to the CAB, Friday, February 20, 1948, at around 7:00 am, Piedmont Airlines launched its first passenger flight. The flight took off in Wilmington, made several stops along the way, and landed in Cincinnati at 12:24 pm. The plane then made its return trip and landed back in Wilmington at 7:19 pm. The DC-3 plane Piedmont Airlines was flying at the time could carry up to 28 passengers, a pilot, co-pilot, and a purser.

Early regional airlines like Piedmont Airlines modeled their schedules after the railroads. Piedmont Airlines had proposed a system of several routes to connect small cities in North Carolina. The first flight followed a route that began in Wilmington, made stops in Southern Pines; Charlotte; Asheville; the Tri-Cities, a regional airport serving Tennessee and Virginia; Lexington, KY; and Cincinnati, OH. Because of their fast schedules and quick time spent on the ground, Piedmont’s planes earned the nickname “puddle jumpers.”

Despite their lowly nickname, Piedmont Airlines quickly became known for its famous balance between excellent customer service and spartan accommodations. An anecdote recounted in Elliott’s Flight of the Pacemaker mentions how the pursers picked up Krispy Kreme donuts on their way into work for flights leaving out of Winston-Salem, but that was one small comfort in a crowded cabin that was hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and unpressurized.

The airline’s reputation and customer base grew steadily, as did its good relationship with the CAB. Piedmont Airlines jumped a much bigger puddle and made its first international flight to London in 1987. In 1989, USAir acquired Piedmont Airlines.

Piedmont wings pin from Lew Powell Collection

Dunn, James Alexander Clarke. “The History of Piedmont Airlines” in Pace, vol. 15, no. 12, p. 53-78.

Eller, Richard E. Piedmont Airlines: A Complete History, 1948-1989. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2008.

Elliott, Frank. Piedmont: Flight of the Pacemaker. Winston-Salem, NC: Piedmont Aviation Historical Society, 2006.

“Air Route is Given Supreme Court Okay,” in News & Observer, 7 February 1950.

“Thomas H. Davis, Founder of Piedmont Airlines Receives the Honor of His Peers,” in We the People of North Carolina, vol. 42, no. 4, p. 22-24, 59.

Image Sources:
<a href"“Piedmont Airlines planes in hangar,” in Hugh Morton Collection of Photographs and Films, P081.

“Municipal Airport, Fayetteville, N.C.” in Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards (P077), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill.

Piedmont Airlines wings button, in the Lew Powell Memorabilia Collection.

Imaging and Imagining Downtowns in Postcards

We recently found a real photo postcard of Highlands, NC with its negative housed in the same sleeve.  And in the same box, we found a hand-colored postcard of the same image.  We decided to share these different elements on the blog so that faithful readers of NC Miscellany could see a little more about the production of postcards and the kinds of changes that were made to the images in order to depict a certain idea of the downtown in the postcard.


The negative is fairly damaged, and in the photo above, notice how the top layer is buckling.  The shiny spots on the surface are called mirroring, which occurs when the emulsion layer of the negative oxidizes.

Also visible in this negative are some of the techniques photographers used to doctor their negatives to achieve certain results in the photographic print.  There’s layer of “ruby red” opaque paint across the sky, which would have resulted in a perfectly crisp, clear white sky in the printed photograph.  And the graphite markings on the buildings, along the tree line, and around the Texaco sign would have added definition to the printed photo.


I took the above photograph of the negative sitting on top of our lightbox so that you can see the effect the ruby red has – the sky is completely smooth and opaque where the product was painted on.  The graphite markings were done to give the treeline a  natural, feathered look – without them, the ruby red would have left unnatural straight lines there.


The negative was then photographically reproduced, resulting in the real photo card above.  The clear sky and crisply outlined buildings make for a sharper, cleaner image of this downtown view of Highlands, NC.


The above postcard was created from the same negative we’ve been discussing in this post.  Here the image has been hand-colored after it was printed.  The effect results in less detail when compared to the real photo card and to the negative, but it does add a certain panache.

George Moses Horton, Redux

We’ve been discussing which North Carolianians would be good candidates for appearing on a NC-centric Mount Rushmore, and George Moses Horton has come up.  There’s a lot of online resources here at UNC about his life and poems, including:

Slavery and the Making of the University, George Moses Horton
An online exhibit from the Southern Historical Collection that includes correspondence between Horton and David Swain and Horace Greely.

Life of George M. Horton. The Colored Bard of North Carolina from “The Poetical Works of George M. Horton, the Colored Bard of North Carolina, to which is Prefixed the Life of the Author, written by himself.”
From Documenting the American South, the full text of the autobiographical introduction to The Poetical Works of George Horton Moses, which is linked below.

The Poetical Works of George M. Horton: The Colored Bard of North Carolina: To Which is Prefixed the Life of the Author, Written by Himself.
From Documenting the American South, the full text of The Poetical Works of George M. Horton.  For more information about Horton’s biography, click here.

George Moses Horton Exhibit, Documentary Resources Available at UNC
Click on “Horton Manuscripts at UNC-CH” to view scanned images of Horton poems housed in the Southern Historical Collection.

Barber Printing & Stationery Co., Winston-Salem, NC


Several postcards and a few pamphlets/books here in the NCC were printed by the Barber Printing & Stationery Co. in Winston-Salem, NC.  I’m not sure exactly when it was founded, but it appears in the 1910 city directory for Winston-Salem.

I wasn’t able to find out much about their business other than they were a printer and a purveyor of office supplies.  Their office was located at 209 W. 3rd Street, and appears in the postcards above and below.


NC’s Own Lil’ Wayne


A while back we uploaded a postcard of Little Wayne Hass.  The card was printed from one of Hugh Morton’s photos, and the caption mentions that Hass was “Featured with Arthur Smith & Crackerjacks WBTV-WBT-MGM Records.”  (And yes, this is the Arthur Smith that wrote the dueling banjos theme that was ripped off in the 1972 movie Deliverance.  Smith sued and won.)

WBTV is the call number for the Charlotte television station, which first aired in 1949.  It appears that Arthur Smith and the Crackerjacks performed in Charlotte (perhaps regularly?) on the station, but I can’t seem to find out much more about the band or their NC roots.  Do you know anything?

The Hugh Morton Collection of Photographs and Films has several other images of Arthur Smith and the Crackerjacks, which you can view here.

In the photo below, Wayne Hass is in the back row, second from the left.


Therapeutic Travel, part two: Healing Springs

Just as sanitariums existed before the advent of the railroad but became increasingly more prevalent and popular after a well-established railroad presence in the state, healing springs and spas enjoyed a similar vogue.  Some spas advertised their accessibility by listing which popular rail lines were located nearby and by providing coach service from the rail road station to the resort.


There were baths, spas, and springs located in many counties, but they were particularly concentrated in Western North Carolina, the Piedmont, and the Sandhills region.  Different types of springs boasted different services and medicinal properties:  some mineral waters were meant for bathing, some were meant for drinking and food preparation, and others were for both.  Some spas were seasonal, while others were year-round.


These spas featured luxurious accommodations, including hotel buildings with large verandas and balconies were popular, and spring houses and pavilions allowed visitors to enjoy the outdoors with comfort.  In addition to different therapeutic services, the resorts also provided different social and recreational activities for their guests, including music, dancing, games, and outdoor activities.  Cooking and cuisine were also a big draw for these resorts, and the chef’s name and style is sometimes advertised.


In a NC Historical Review article about Catawba Springs, Chalmers G. Davidson writes, “the therapeutic value of the Springs was constantly played up in the journals, although there is little evidence that the healing of more than ennui was accomplished” (1951).

You can view more images of springhouses in the NC Postcard Collection here.

Therapeutic Travel, part one: Sanitariums

We recently designed a display case in the NCC’s reading room that shows postcards from a variety of therapeutic destinations in the early 20th Century.  We’ve selected postcards showing sanitariums, healing springs, and coastal resorts to illustrate the different types of accommodations that became increasingly more popular after the establishment of the railroad in North Carolina.  We’ll post a blog entry for each type of institution over the next few weeks.


In an effort to treat patients with tuberculosis, sanitariums were built across the state, but many were located in Western North Carolina.  These facilities boasted clean, fresh air, restful scenery, and a slew of attendants and physicians to care for their ailing clients.

The railroad to Asheville was completed in 1882, making travel to Western North Carolina more convenient for those seeking to access the sanitariums and healthy climate of the mountains.  Pamphlets for both the sanitariums and railroads at this time often advertise their services in tandem:


This excerpt from a Southern Railway pamphlet, ca. 1898, is a prime example of how the railroad company used the benefits of Western North Carolina’s climate to laud their own service.

More postcards of sanitariums can be viewed online here.

Visualizing NC’s Literary Landscape

UNC Greensboro and the North Carolina Center for the Book have collaborated to develop their new Web-based tool, A Literary Map of North Carolina.  You can use the map to browse by geographic location, author, or genre.


The comprehensive project includes works (fiction, biographies, histories, poetry, plays, and children’s literature) written about North Carolina, works set in North Carolina, and works by authors who were born in North Carolina, who live or have lived in North Carolina, or who have written about North Carolina.

…  And don’t forget to visit NCM’s sister blog, Read North Carolina Novels!

New Towns uploaded in December

During the month of December, we added just one new town to our North Carolina Postcards digital collection:


Skyland, Buncombe County

The real photo postcard above shows a hotel located at mountain spring in Buncombe County, was was photographed by Herbert W. Pelton ca. 1903.  Pelton later collaborated with NC Photographer George Masa in the 1920s at the Photo-Craft Shop.

Despite December’s lack of novel towns, after scanning through our monthly updates of newly added towns, I can estimate that in 2009 we added over 60 previously unrepresented towns.  Hooray!  I’m curious to see what 2010 will bring.