The Aeromarine Model 75 'Santa Maria' flying over Detroit in the summer of 1921.
(Courtesy of Robert Fraser Farnsworth)

A Website About Aeromarine Airways
A Pioneer Airline In U.S. Aviation

In October of 1920, a fast merger was concluded between Aeromarine Sightseeing and Navigation Company, one of the subsidiaries of Aeromarine Plane and Motor Company, and Florida West Indies Airways, Inc., which had just won an airmail contract from the U.S. Post Office for the Key West to Havana route, but lacked the planes to operate the contract. On November 1, 1920, the resulting company, Aeromarine West Indies Airways, began the first scheduled international passenger and air mail service in the United States, which was operated daily between Key West and Havana on a 60 minute flight schedule versus over eight hours by boat. The aircraft used were converted U.S. Navy F5L flying boats (Santa Maria and Pinta). They had been modified for civilian usage and renamed Model 75s by the Aeromarine Plane and Motor Company of Keyport, New Jersey. They featured luxurious accommodations for 11 passengers in 2 compartments, and were manned by three crewmen - a pilot and mechanic/copilot in an open cockpit above the enclosed cabin, and a bowman. Powered by two 420 h.p. Liberty engines, the 75s had a top speed of 85 mph and range of 340 miles. Fully loaded, they could also carry about 300 pounds of freight. The Aeromarine flying boats were advertised to the public as being the height of safety, because they carried their landing field with them and were operated by skilled ex-Navy pilots. During this first season of operations Aeromarine West Indies Airways also began flying between Miami and Bimini.

To larger photo of the Aeromarine Model 75 'Balboa' in Miami

In the spring of 1921, Aeromarine Airways (company having been renamed after a management reorganization) moved north, and began to offer regular service during the summer months between New York City, Atlantic City, Southampton and additional destinations on Long Island, Newport, Lake George, and other regional resort destinations. Next winter, it returned to Florida - expanding its service to Palm Beach and Nassau, in addition to Havana, Key West, Miami and Bimini, and became widely known as the "Highball Express" for taking "dry" wealthy Americans to the "wet" islands of the Caribbean during these Prohibition years. This south-in-winter and north-in-summer operation continued until late 1923, with a successful Cleveland to Detroit route added to the northern operations in July of 1922.

At its peak, Aeromarine Airways operated eight of the Model 75s and at least twelve four to six passenger flying boats, known as Model 85s. (See fleet list.) The company was headquartered in the Times Building (Room 1800) in Times Square, New York City, and had its city operating base at the Columbia Yacht Basin on the Hudson River. It received generous private funding (some $500,000) from its Chairman Inglis Moore Uppercu, who was the exclusive distributor of Cadillac automobiles in the New York City area, and enjoyed strong executive leadership under the guidance of Charles Fraser Redden.

To larger photo of the Aeromarine Model 75 'Columbus' over Bimini, Bahamas

Before ceasing operations early in 1924, Aeromarine had carried over 30,000 passengers, flown well over a million passenger miles, and hauled close to 100,000 pounds of freight, while only suffering one serious fatal accident (loss of the Columbus in January of 1923 between Key West and Havana). In just over three years of operations, Aeromarine instituted many "airline procedures": pilot training; maintenance programs; passenger services; and seasonal rotation of equipment. Aeromarine also enjoyed many firsts: first U.S. international air mail service and first scheduled U.S. international passenger service (Key West to Havana, November 1, 1920); first total service U.S. airline (passenger, mail, express cargo); first in-flight movie (Chicago, August 1921); first airline baggage label (1921); first U.S. airline ticket office (Cleveland, July 1922). Nevertheless, it was too early for a scheduled airline to be financially successful, especially without regular Government subsidies for such a young industry.

The modern airline transportation system with its worldwide connections, speed, and comfort is a direct successor of the pioneering efforts of Aeromarine Airways, especially the inaugural flight of the Santa Maria and the Pinta on November 1, 1920, from Key West to Havana.

(History written by Daniel, December 2003)
(Photo of the Santa Maria flying over Detroit, MI, in the summer of 1921, courtesy of Robert Fraser Farnsworth)


See also Genealogy of the Aeromarine companies - A corporate time line


Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum's has a page on Early Airlines, including Aeromarine Airways.


This page last updated March 14, 2024.

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