The accompanying photograph, taken late in 1929, shows the manufacturing campus of the Travel Air Company as it appeared at that time. The four additional buildings had been completed and the latest in woodworking and welding equipment had been installed. A water tower had been added and across East Central Avenue a small hotel for factory workers was erected along with storage facilities. The entire complex was called “Travel Air City.”
When production peaked in mid-1929, the factory workforce was struggling to build and deliver 25 airplanes each week – a phenomenal rate that was never achieved because of constraints on existing manufacturing capacity that were exacerbated by inadequate floorspace. In 1930 America’s severe economic downturn (aka “The Great Depression”) forced parent company Curtiss-Wright Corporation to demand massive layoffs at many of its facilities nationwide, and it fell to Travel Air president Walter H. Beech to break the bad news to hundreds of faithful employees at the Wichita factory. Demand simply dried up almost overnight and the production lines soon grew quiet as more and more dealers and customers cancelled their orders.
In an effort to save money and stop the torrent of red ink soaking into its books, in 1931 Curtiss-Wright management closed the factory and the few remaining workers were laid off. Only one person was retained to maintain the grounds and keep the campus secure, but in 1932 he was cut from the payroll as well. In 1933 Clyde V. Cessna and his son Eldon leased one of the buildings to construct three custom-built monoplane racers, but the factory complex remained idle until April 1934 when Walter and Olive Ann Beech bought the entire campus from Curtiss-Wright. They eventually transformed Travel Air City into the permanent home of the Beech Aircraft Company.
During its five years of existence, Travel Air had built more than 1,450 airplanes and by 1929 employed nearly 700 workers laboring in three shifts to meet demand. The company had become one of the best airframe builders in America and earned a sterling reputation for airplanes that were designed, engineered and manufactured to the highest standards of the time. In addition, Travel Air taught Walter Beech and Olive Ann Mellor how the capricious aviation industry worked, and they applied that hard-earned business acumen to their new organization whose fame and fortune would dramatically exceed that of the Travel Air Company.