15 artifacts in this set
The Ford Tri-Motor was the most popular airliner of the late 1920s and early 1930s. Its rugged dependability led Richard Byrd to choose a Tri-Motor for his attempt to be the first person to fly over the South Pole. On November 28-29, 1929, Byrd and a crew of three achieved that goal in this plane.
Explorer Richard Byrd and pilot Floyd Bennett flew this Fokker F.VII Tri-Motor airplane toward the North Pole on May 9, 1926. Though Byrd is generally credited with reaching the pole, controversy remains. Edsel Ford financed the expedition, and Byrd acknowledged his patron by naming the plane Josephine Ford, after Ford's daughter.
The Bremen was the first aircraft to fly nonstop from Europe to North America. Hermann Kohl, Ehrenfried Guenther von Huenefeld, and James Fitzmaurice took off from Baldonnel, Ireland, on April 12, 1928, and touched down on Greenly Island, Canada, the next day. The east-to-west crossing, made against prevailing winds, was more difficult than a flight from North America to Europe.
Flying was a new experience for Americans in the late 1920s. Stout Air Services offered relatively inexpensive tour flights to attract new passengers. This brochure calmed the nerves of first-time flyers. Passengers were assured that "the pilot always banks when turning," "the air supports the plane like the ocean supports a ship," and "dizziness is unknown in airplanes."
In 1929, Stout Air Lines offered regular passenger flights between Detroit and Chicago, and Detroit and Cleveland, with intermediate stops along both routes. Service was via Ford Tri-Motor airplanes. Flying time from Detroit to Chicago was about three hours, and about 100 minutes from Detroit to Cleveland. Connecting air and rail lines took Stout passengers farther into the Midwest and Northeast.
William B. Stout and Henry Ford pose beside a Ford Tri-Motor in this circa 1927 photo. Ford purchased the Stout Metal Aircraft Company in 1925, and Stout's tri-motor 3-AT airplane influenced the design of the successful Ford Tri-Motor aircraft produced from 1926 to 1933.
Henry Ford attempted to apply automobile assembly line techniques to the manufacture of airplanes, and to build them in large numbers. Monthly production peaked at 25 planes in June 1929. The Great Depression forced Ford to re-focus on his core auto business, and the company's commercial aircraft production ended in May 1933.
With its large, thick wing, the Ford Tri-Motor was very stable in flight. The three engines provided an excellent safety margin. The plane could fly well with two motors, and it could maintain level flight with only one. Cockpit design was efficient. Dual controls allowed either the pilot or co-pilot -- or, in bad weather, both -- to fly the craft.
Americans initially wondered if air travel was safe. Fatal crashes by barnstorming pilots were well-publicized, and wood and cloth airplanes did not inspire confidence. But when Henry Ford began making planes, the industrialist's solid reputation eased people's fears. The all-metal Tri-Motors were rugged, dependable and safe. By the late 1920s these planes were the backbone of the budding airline industry.
On November 28-29, 1929, Richard E. Byrd successfully flew over the South Pole in a Ford 4-AT-B Tri-Motor. Byrd's expedition was financed in part by a $100,000 contribution from Edsel Ford. Byrd initially left the Tri-Motor in the Antarctic but, at Edsel Ford's request, retrieved the airplane in 1935 and shipped it to Dearborn for display in Henry Ford Museum.
Model 4-AT airliners were designed and built by engineers of the Stout Metal Airplane Company, purchased from William Stout by Ford Motor Company. These rugged planes earned a reputation for being safe and dependable. Many commercial airlines -- including Stout's newly formed Stout Air Lines -- purchased 4-ATs for passenger travel. Here, one of his airliners takes on well-dressed passengers in Dearborn, Michigan.
Passengers, protected from weather by a covered walkway, board a Ford Tri-Motor for a Transcontinental Air Transport flight. Their luggage is being loaded into a compartment built into the airplane's wing. The unusual storage arrangement provided room for cargo without taking up any of the limited space in the cabin.
Edsel B. Ford, Richard E. Byrd and William B. Stout with Royal Typewriter's Ford Tri-Motor 4-AT-8, 1927
One of the most unusual uses of a Tri-Motor was by Royal Typewriter Company of Hartford, Connecticut. Royal purchased its plane in 1927 to deliver typewriters to the company's distributors. To avoid time-consuming landings, Royal dropped the typewriters, three at a time, by parachute. Royal ended the experimental program and sold its Tri-Motor before year's end.
The Ford Tri-Motor's versatility was a big part of its success. By mounting a set of pontoon floats on the airplane's landing gear, any sufficiently large body of water became a runway. This modification was especially useful in places where landing strips -- paved or not -- were few and far between.
Air travel was something completely new for most Americans in the 1920s. Ford Motor Company offered an exciting -- and reassuring -- description of the experience in its advertisements for Ford Tri-Motor airplanes. Passengers "move twice as fast as the fastest express trains" secure in the knowledge that "if all three (engines) fail the plane has a gliding range of miles."