The wild and reckless stock market boom of the “Roarin’ Twenties,” coupled with the solo transatlantic flight of Charles A. Lindbergh in 1927, gave rise to an explosion of public interest and corporate investment in commercial aviation. By 1929, under the leadership of financier Clement Keys, the Curtiss-Wright Corporation had become one of America’s largest aeronautical organizations. As part of its ambitious plan to dominate the industry it soon swallowed up 12 of America’s most promising aviation businesses, including the Travel Air Company based in Wichita, Kansas.
Since 1926 private investors had assisted Travel Air in expanding its manufacturing capabilities, but by 1928 the new factory on East Central Avenue was bursting at the seams in a vain attempt to meet skyrocketing demand for new aircraft. In 1929 Curtiss-Wright, flooded with money from Wall Street, provided funds to greatly increase Travel Air’s production capacity and its workforce.
Four more buildings were quickly erected during the spring and summer of 1929, in addition to the two that had been built in 1927 and 1928. Designated as Buildings “C,” “D” and “E,” the facilities provided the much needed floor space to build the company’s popular open-cockpit biplanes and cabin monoplanes for private and corporate business aviation. In addition, an administration building was constructed to house corporate offices for company president Walter H. Beech, a bevy of secretaries led by office manager Olive Ann Mellor, and offices for sales and advertising departments.
The photographs show the new buildings under construction during the summer of 1929, but work to complete the campus continued into the autumn months. Unfortunately, the halcyon days of Wall Street suddenly met their fate in October when the stock market began to collapse. Despite herculean efforts by Curtiss-Wright, Travel Air and many other airplane builders nationwide to sell their swollen inventories, by the end of the year sales of new private and commercial airplanes in America had entered a deep stall that led to an inverted spin from which the industry never recovered until the advent of World War II.
(Photographs courtesy Edward H. Phillips Collection and C. Don Cary)