The Great Silver Fleet (1939)
Pitcairn Aviation's PA-7S CAM-19 Route Airmail aircraft
Eastern Air Lines was a composite of assorted air travel corporations, including Florida Airways and Pitcairn Aviation. In the late 1920s, Pitcairn Aviation won a contract to fly mail between New York City and Atlanta, Georgia on Mailwing single-engine aircraft. In 1929, Clement Keys, the owner of North American Aviation, purchased Pitcairn. In 1930, Keys changed the company's name to Eastern Air Transport. After being purchased by General Motors and experiencing a change in leadership after the Airmail Act of 1934, the airline became known as Eastern Air Lines.
Growth under Rickenbacker
In 1938 World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker bought Eastern from General Motors. The complex deal was concluded when Rickenbacker presented Alfred P. Sloan with a certified check for $3.5 million. In March 1939 Eastern had 15 weekday departures from Newark (six to Washington, five to Miami and one each to Richmond, Atlanta, Houston and San Antonio), two from Chicago to Miami, one from Tampa to Atlanta and one from Tallahassee to Memphis. Those flights and their returns were Eastern's whole scheduled operation; it fit on one page in the Airways Guide. Then as later, Eastern was the fourth largest airline in the country by passenger-miles (103 million in 1939).
Rickenbacker pushed Eastern into a period of growth and innovation; for a time Eastern was the most profitable airline in the post-war era, never needing state subsidy. In the late 1950s Eastern's position was eroded by subsidies to rival airlines and the arrival of the jet age. Rickenbacker's position as CEO was taken over by Malcolm A. MacIntyre, a brilliant lawyer but a man inexperienced in airline operations,' on October 1, 1959. Rickenbacker's ouster was largely due to his reluctance to acquire expensive jets; like many others, he underestimated their appeal to the public. A new management team headed by Floyd D. Hall took over on 16 December 1963, and Rickenbacker left his position as Director and Chairman of the Board on December 31, 1963, aged 73.
In 1956 Eastern bought Colonial Airlines, giving the airline its first routes to Canada.