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
painted Robertson Aircraft Company on the side of the airplane, and
their careers in the aviation business. Home base was a government
air mail field at Forest Park in downtown St. Louis. Their
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
brother Frank was Vice-President.
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
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
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
Post Office began the first official sustained air mail service, using
surplus Curtiss JN-4 and DH-4 airplanes, and military trained
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
the first eight feeder routes. On October 7, 1925, the bids were
and five of the eight contracts were awarded (three of the routes
to receive a satisfactory bid).
|The winners of the new CAM (Contract Air Mail) routes
CAM-1 Boston - New
Robertson Aircraft Corporation
CAM-3 Chicago -
National Air Transport
CAM-4 Salt Lake City - Los
Angeles Western Air Express
CAM-5 Elko, NV – Pasco,
Varney Speed Lines
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)