Robertson Logo
World War I Flyers ...
St. Louis brothers Bill and Frank Robertson learned to fly in the Army during World War I. The war ended before either of the brothers could get overseas. Returning home in the spring of 1919, they borrowed $1,800 from their father to purchase a war surplus Curtiss Jenny. They painted Robertson Aircraft Company on the side of the airplane, and began their careers in the aviation business. Home base was a government air mail field at Forest Park in downtown St. Louis. Their business consisted primarily of carrying passengers, giving flying lessons, and performing exhibition flights at county fairs and other events. When they could get away, the Robertson brothers made barnstorming trips thoughout the midwest. In February 1921, Robertson Aircraft Corporation was officially incorporated in the state of Missouri, showing the Curtiss Jenny, one spare OX-5 engine, and a hangar at Forest Park airfield as its assets. Older brother Bill was listed as President of the corporation. Younger brother Frank was Vice-President.
 
RobertsonBrothers.jpg (36709 bytes)
                    Bill Robertson (1893-1943)                                                 Frank Robertson (1898-1938)

Business is good ...
By 1922, the Robertson brothers were operating from two airports, the original field at Forest Park and a new field they had helped established called St. Louis Flying Field.  This new field would very shortly be renamed Lambert Field.  Their fleet of airplanes had also grown in just one year to include 5 Jennies, 1 Curtiss Oriole, and 1 Sturtevant Biplane.  During that year, the brothers made 5,000 flights, carried 1,000 passengers, and hauled 3,000 pounds of freight (that’s a LOT of freight in a Jenny!).  Robertson Aircraft Corporation’s reputation and bank account were growing rapidly.

One of the most important things the Robertsons did with their profits was to buy up several hundred OX-5 engines from government surplus.  In very short order they had the market cornered for this popular powerplant.  The next step was to get into the airplane rebuilding and selling business.  During 1924 the company acquired 35 more war surplus airplanes, which it assembled in it's repair shops and sold.  By the start of 1925, Robertson Aircraft had 22 full-time mechanics on duty, reconditioning government surplus airplanes for sale.  They had leased four 66 ft. x 120 ft. hangars at Lambert Field, as their new base of operations.  Their inventory that year showed 333 airplanes in stock, ready to fly away.  These included Jennies, Standards, Canucks, DH-4s, Orioles, Spads, and others.  In partnership with the Nicholas-Beazly Airplane company, the Robertsons had bought 450 government surplus Standards.  They opened supply warehouses in Kansas City, San Antonio, Houston, New Orleans, and Fort Wayne, as well as at the home base in St. Louis.  Robertson Aircraft Corporation was building a reputation as one of the nation’s largest and most important aviation supply companies.  Their success put them in a prime position to bid on one of the new government air mail contracts being offered in the summer of 1925.

Air Mail Pioneers ...
When World War I came to a close, the U.S. government had decided that delivering the mail by airplane would be one constructive use for some of its fleet of leftover airplanes.  Thus on May 15, 1918 the U.S. Post Office began the first official sustained air mail service, using war surplus Curtiss JN-4 and DH-4 airplanes, and military trained pilots.  For the next 8 years, the U.S. Air Mail service continued to grow and spread nationwide.  By 1924 the air mail operation had matured to the point that Congress decided that the actual flying of the air mail planes would best be handled by private contractors.  Congressman Clyde Kelly sponsored a bill “to encourage commercial aviation and to authorize the postmaster general to contract for air mail service”.  The “Kelly Act” was signed into law by President Calvin Coolidge on February 2, 1925.  During the summer Postmaster General Harry S. New advertised for bids for the first eight feeder routes.  On October 7, 1925, the bids were opened and five of the eight contracts were awarded (three of the routes failed to receive a satisfactory bid).
 
The winners of the new CAM (Contract Air Mail) routes were:
CAM-1      Boston - New York                  Colonial Airlines
CAM-2     Chicago - St. Louis                  Robertson Aircraft Corporation
CAM-3     Chicago - Dallas                        National Air Transport
CAM-4     Salt Lake City - Los Angeles     Western Air Express
CAM-5     Elko, NV – Pasco, WA             Varney Speed Lines

white DH-4
1925 newspaper clipping showing Bill Robertson with DH-4B modified for air mail service.
(photo: "Charles Lindbergh: An Airman, his Aircraft, and his Great Flights" by R.E.G. Davies)

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