Air Transportation


By CARLETON PUTNAM, President, Chicago and Southern Air Lines

Delivered at the Company's 10th Anniversary Dinner, sponsored by the National Aeronautic Association,Washington, D. C., June 25, 1943

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 688-692.

TEN years ago tonight, in fact almost to the hour, allowing for the difference in time, I stood beside a five-passenger Bellanca airplane at the airport at Los Angeles with the Mayor and the usual wreaths of flowers. We had just completed the first run of our new air line along the coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles, a line we'd started with two single-motored planes and a spare engine, less than $25,000 capital, no mail contract, and a route that nobody else wanted. In fact all we had, in the words of a song that was popular in those days, were "good dispositions and a wild desire to succeed." Looking back on it now the whole thing seems just a little foolish, a little too fanciful to dwell upon without an indulgent smile.

And yet, remembering that sunset back in 1933, I'm touched by a certain nostalgia and, as spokesman for the Company, by a deep sense of gratitude to the men and women whose efforts through the years have made possible the Chicago and Southern of today. Some of them have gone to other air lines in the course of time, some of them have taken a longer journey than any of use here have taken yet, but many have grown with us over a large part of the decade, and to all of them tonight I drink a silent toast.

I say "silent" because it is so hard to put into words all that that fellowship has meant. Of course it has meant the obvious things—the sharing of a very real adventure, the things we in our business don't talk about much because it sounds a little sentimental, the ship coming in through the storm, the plane taking off toward the evening star—all these things fashion a bond between air line men. And for Chicago and Southern in particular there has been the Horatio Alger story, the climb from the pathetic shoe-string to the established corporation of today, taken in dramatic steps and by narrow escapes that in places would make most novels seem tame. Somehow, looking back, it has been genuine drama, rich in suspense, satisfying in its rewards, and altogether compact with the elements that we Americans, for a century and a half, have learned to value and to love as a part of the adventure of living.

I wouldn't dwell so long on what may seem rather personal and family matters, were it not that I want to make two points tonight. One of them has to do with the past, one with the future. And the one from the past is this: There have been granted to us of Chicago and Southern the literal opportunities and the literal fulfillment that we were taught to believe were a part of our American inheritance. It is one thing to learn about such values in school, it is another to live through them in experience. And having done so, it is natural to want to pay tribute to the system and the traditions that make them possible. I know that sometimes the system does not work too well, that many in bitterness have found that injustice can be done, or that the reward can fall far short of the effort and devotion. But where circumstance and good fortune have joined to approximate the ideal, it is good to pause on an occasion such as this and to acknowledge certain debts.

I doubt if there are many countries in the world today, even among the democracies, where a small group of young men, limited in financial resources, could have found an equivalent opportunity in so wide a field or have been able to realize its satisfactions to the same extent. I do not mean that any of us have become rich out of our efforts, but we have had the one supreme satisfaction of building something together, of seeing it grow under our hands, of sharing, from the executives on through our whole organization, a close fellowship in the building, and of knowing that we have had the chance to do this without favoritism from any quarter—except, perhaps, the one great favor of having been born under the flag we were.

The subject of free enterprise, I know, is a large and complex one—complex, that is, in the problems it raises in attaining the ideal in any universal sense. But we do well, in the midst of those complexities, to revert now and then to the principle itself, and to remind ourselves how simple and basic it remains. It has often occurred to me that if we could give every man three things, his own home, his own wife, and his own shop, most of our troubles in this world wouldbe over. No amount of theorizing about communal property, or the "leadership principle," or the world revolution, can alter the essentially personal basis of human life and society. Diffuse as widely as possible the personal satisfaction and you have a healthy body politic. The problem, of course, is to accomplish this without forfeiting the many benefits of high industrialization. Perfection would probably be achieved if we could attain the personal satisfactions of a pastoral society, with the comforts, conveniences and wider integrations of Manhattan Island. But since the millennium is not yet with us, we must work toward the most balanced compromise possible.

And in working toward it, let us not forget that it is easier to be beguiled by the magnificent pattern and the grand conception in business or government, than by these simpler, more basic, more personal ingredients of a healthy society. I know too well, from my own experience, the impersonal flavor of what I might call the "Manhattan Island" point of view in business. I know its deadening effect on the pioneer spirit and the sense of adventure in young men. It is perhaps symbolic that we of Chicago and Southern should have had to go west to get our start, west to the heartland of the pioneer. That was the best place we could find to set up a shop of our own, where we could build something for ourselves. And may I say to those of you who are in the government service in whatever capacity: gentlemen, there is no greater satisfaction than running your own shop, no matter how small it is, but next to that is the satisfaction of cooperating with a few close friends in running it, and the third best thing, when you choose a career, is to be able to look around you and to find enough independent, separate organizations in your field to give you a reasonable assurance that some day, in one of them, you can get "on the bridge" as they say at sea. And, gentlemen, the worst thing is to look around you and to see no chance, ever, of being more than a name on a long list.

Shortly before his death Lord Tweedsmuir who was then Governor General of Canada, looking back on the turbulent years of his public life—years that included not only the First World War, but the whole germinal period of the present catastrophe—wrote these words: "In my lifetime I seem to note a change which is a graver thing than our other discontents, which, indeed, is in a large measure the cause of them. The outlook of youth has been narrowed, doors have been sealed, channels have silted up, there is less choice of routes at the cross-roads. . . . A young man seems to me to have fewer avenues open to him, and fewer chances in these avenues. I leave out of account the preeminence of mind or character which we call genius, for that will always hew out a course. I am speaking of youth of reasonable capacity and moderate ambitions, which seeks a calling with hope and daylight in it, which is capable of a great effort of patience but must have a glimpse of some attainable goal. . . . I have had much to do with young men on several continents and in many countries and I regard this shrinking of opportunity as one of the gravest facts of our age. It will remain an urgent matter long after the guns are silent. Somehow or other we must make our social and economic world more fluid. We must widen the approaches so that honest ambition and honourable discontent may have elbow room. The world must remain an oyster for youth to open. If not, youth will cease to be young, and that will be the end of everything."

It would seem to me that the greatest contribution this nation can make to the world as a democracy at the end of the war is to do all it can to preserve those aspects of the pioneer way of life that have given value and meaning to the individual, the things that have made of living in America a personal adventure, and of the world "an oyster for youth to open." This, I think, is the real touchstone of our success on this continent. Free land, free hope, plenty of chances—either to be your own boss or to find a boss you like, with plenty to choose from before you decide—that is what the American flag meant to our grandfathers—what it still means to some of us. Whether it will mean the same to our children is another matter. That is the issue in large measure that day by day you here determine. This relatively small company, Chicago and Southern, is the product of decisions you made last year and the year before, and eight years before that. In our time of development you sheltered and nourished us, and tonight we remember.

And perhaps we may be forgiven for asking, will it still be the same ten years from tonight—for others as well as for ourselves? If there cannot be the identical chance to open a shop, will there be an equal chance to carry on, an equal range of opportunity to get above the first rungs of the ladder? Will it be a question, for the young fellow wanting to get a start in aviation, of being a cog in one or two great machines, or will he be able to say "I like the style of that outfit down in Alabama. I'll get ahead with them. There'll be room at the top down there some day for me." Mark you, there's the difference between health and sickness in an industry, and what's more important, in a society.

It bewilders me at times to think how completely we take all this for granted, and yet how easily we forget it in our discussions of public questions. The other night on the American Forum of the Air I overheard this dialogue take place between Claire Luce and Admiral Land. Admiral Land asked the question: "Why shouldn't shipping lines and rails and air combine rather than be separated?" And Mrs. Luce replied: "Because then they would cease to be competitive." To which Admiral Land made what seems to me the staggering rejoinder, "Not at all. We have plenty of competition from the foreign people of the world. I can prove that by maritime use. We have one flag and there are 26 against us."

It staggers me because I never thought the word "competition," to an American, meant only the existence of more than one organization in a field. I never supposed the virtues of competition were exemplified simply by the existence of a troupe of Goliaths in the arena, and no David anywhere in sight. I never thought anyone would say that one giant transportation company in America would bring us all the benefits of competition simply because 26 other foreign lines would force it to keep its rates down and its service up. Are rates and service the only things that competition and freedom from monopoly mean to Americans? I promise you they are not. Those words mean also a chance for David. They mean the existence of diversified opportunity for the fellow inside business, as well as the public outside business. They mean a fair margin of chance to get "on the bridge" somewhere, sometime for the man of reasonable ambition and reasonable ability—not just one or two chances for one or two great leaders or geniuses. Give the country that kind of competition and the public will be well served both at the bargain counter and in the adventure of life. It goes beyond economics. It goes to the heart of the human and personal inducements that lend zest and stimulation to youth everywhere.

Now I am thoroughly conscious of the compromises that have to be made in any organized society in achieving most of its. results. Always it seems to be a question of finding the balance, the happy medium. The chaos of too many independent business units can be as disheartening as the deadening hand of too few. This is particularly the case inthe so-called "public utility" field, and air transport is certainly a public utility. If you authorize unbridled competition here, if you permit wasteful duplication of services, you squander the taxpayers', as well as the passengers' money. I would far rather see so-called regional monopolies, and in fact I would recommend regional monopolies, on many routes where business is not of the heaviest. Your regional monopoly may well provide the diversity of opportunity I speak of—if you have enough regions. And conversely you may permit all degrees of drastic competition among the Big Four, setting them against one another, flying over each other's routes, or you can foster a welter of short lines, over-running the country, and you won't have advanced the cause we represent tonight one bit, or the public's either.

So I ask, where does one draw the line, how does one find a formula for the happy medium here? I doubt if there is a formula. If there is one, it consists in a state of mind on the part of our law makers and administrative bodies, a state of mind that remembers that business is living and that living is more than just an economic principle, subject to more than economic tests and measurements—a state of mind that flavors every decision it makes with the salt of the personal and human needs in our society. For example if you were to tell me that the whole air transport system of the United States could be operated for half a cent less a mile as one great, single organization, I would say that half a cent was a cheap price to pay for the ferment of ideas, enthusiasm, hopes, and dreams you won't get if you have that single company.

And so on down the scale. You let in your railroads and your steamship companies, and you have not only the danger of old line transportation attitudes dominating and subordinating, by their very size and financial power, the new medium that others have pioneered, but you narrow by so much the diversity of personal opportunity. You do so because you send David in among too many Goliaths. And pebbles are getting scarce.

Or you talk about one great transportation company in the international field, because you say we need a single, united front in competing with other nations for foreign trade. Other nations, you say, go into new territory represented by a single air line, and it makes a bad impression if we follow along with two or three in competition with one another. It's harder for the State Department. It confuses the picture. Now undoubtedly in time of war, or where you have a very delicate political issue, that may be true. But in time of peace, as a principle for normal conditions, may we be delivered from such doctrine. And why? Just because, again, that beautiful symmetrical pattern, that awesome, single system (you can almost hear soft music playing as you look at it on a map on the wall in an office in the Grand Central Palace) that system that is so easy for the State Department to work with—that system will not buy a generation of hope in the eyes of American youth, it will not buy a ferment of diversified executive thinking and enterprise, it will not keep alive the ideal of the wide American chance.

I have said that the formula for finding the happy medium consists in a state of mind among those in authority in our government—first in framing the laws, then in executing them. How many times I have watched that state of mind falter a little, then grow stronger, then hold the line at some Committee hearing in Congress or before an administrative board. Through all the growing pains of our industry for a decade I have watched it, sometimes with grave anxiety and suspense, but almost always, so far, to see its success and vindication. In the very early days I was one of those whoopposed the creation of a separate Aviation Commission and favored leaving authority in the hands of the Interstate Commerce Commission, because I feared that a new, unseasoned body, without roots or traditions, might too easily be swayed by private pressure outside, or powerful minorities inside, the government. In those early days, when we were very young and uncertain ourselves, the Interstate Commerce Commission seemed more like the Rock of Ages "cleft for us," in which we could find shelter in a stormy time.

But as we grew more confident in our position and the thunder clouds of 1934 were dissipated, I became satisfied that under the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938 a new Board or Authority might hold the line just as well. Moreover the inevitable change from the contract system to the route award method of the Civil Aeronautics Act really necessitated the detailed attention of a specialized Board. So we welcomed the 1938 Act and the Authority established by it. And in the five years of operation under it, our faith in its "state of mind" has had no cause to waver.

It is the fashion now-a-days to fling in the teeth of the Board charges of backwardness in route development, and consequently equipment development, in quantity and quality, before the war. Hindsight is always so wise, and, forgive me, so condescending. How many members of the House and Senate appropriations committees, how many on the staff of the Post Office Department, all of whom were powerfully involved in this matter, would have supported an unbridled route expansion program in 1939? Perhaps if you'd been on the Board, you wouldn't have made decisions either that would have been nullified by the appropriations committees of Congress. But these matters are beyond my scope tonight.

The thought that I want to leave with you as one who has watched a decade, the crucial decade, of air transport development is hindsight, too, but less one of criticism than of gratitude and hope. I believe I can speak for all the air lines, outside the so-called Big Four, and perhaps in many ways for them (some of them haven't had such a hard time as they might lead you to think) when I say that running through all these years, in Congress, in the Interstate Commerce Commission, and finally in the Civil Aeronautics Board, I have seen the thread, call it one of the threads of destiny if you like, the thread of the wide American chance, the thread than ran through Santa Fe and old Fort Bridger, through Apache Pass and Sutters Mill, I have seen that thread still weaving its pattern through the growth of air transportation. I have seen a dozen relatively small air lines struggle and grow. I have seen executive talent get its start, prove itself, in those small companies, and then go on to the larger lines. I have seen opportunity multiplied for leadership and experimentation. I have seen all this follow from wise laws wisely administered through ten crucial years. Without them we three* would not be at this table tonight. We smaller people don't talk very often, and when we do our voices are not very loud, but I say to you in all humility, we represent the greatest cause on earth tonight—the beneficiaries of free enterprise in practice, not just in theory. And now one solemn word on behalf of the future. Gentlemen of the Government, this industry has a hold on the imaginations of young men. To them it is more than an industry—it is a faith, a rallying cry, a standard to which they can repair. I do not believe the open frontier of 1843gave more of a lift to the spirits of youth than the air frontier of 1943. Eyes brighten when you speak of it, imaginations kindle. The perennial torch that Boone and Carson carried a hundred years ago is burning yet for them. That flame of personal adventure, that star of personal initiative, that hope of personal fulfillment that glowed in the heart of the covered wagon teamster along the Rio Grande is feeding still on a vision in tomorrow's sky. Are you going to snuff out that light in the impersonal majesty of the efficient single system, are you going to plunge it into darkness to simplify the work of the State Department, does this government exist to provide the widest possible gamut of opportunity for its citizens, at home and abroad, or do we exist to simplify the government? I warn you that we are laying down this year, this month, this week, the highroad for uncounted generations. If we block off from their hungry eyes this vista that fate and circumstances have made the greatest and most symbolic vista in business life today, they'll shed few tears upon our graves tomorrow.

On a number of other occasions I have added my voice to the chorus of those forecasting the new brotherhood Of nations which the airplane can help to fashion in the post-war world. In fact Chicago and Southern was a pioneer in the use, somewhat sentimentally perhaps, of this theme in advertising. You see, to us in the air transport business there is something symbolic about the way the airplane has been the spearhead of destruction in this global war, and the fact that it can so obviously be the spearhead of construction, of integration, afterward. We have a machine here, a device, that is devastating, that has broadened and made more terrible the whole technique of conflict. It is almost as if, in the great, eternal, final balance of things, it was being put starkly up to us to use that same machine to redeem the destruction, to play the leading role, as far as a machine can do it, in healing, in building, when the war's over.

And we mean this literally. We have seen our own personal horizon broadened and mellowed by its influence. We know what sort of world-wide interfusion can result, in culture, in politics, in economics from the proper use of this amazing instrument. And we know how wide the earth is still, how full of virgin opportunity that can be touched awake and alive by the stimulation, the catalysis, of the air age. We know what a firing pin to initiative, what a lash to curiosity, what a spur to adventure there will be in the time-tables of tomorrow.

No man who has read Wendell Willkie's book "One World" can miss the point. Willkie refers, for example, to the province of Sinkiang in western China as duplicating conditions that existed in our own West a hundred years ago. "These red hills are unbelievably lovely to look at from the air," he writes. "I could not see them without thinking what wealth they represent to a nation determined to open up its west. Irrigation projects, power plants, fertile fields and pastures, whole cities could be built in this region, and all the country lacked to build them, it seemed to me, was people." Again in speaking of the Middle East he says "The Middle East is a vast, dry sponge, ready to soak up an infinite variety of goods and services." Writing of the Republic of Yakutsk in Siberia he quotes the Commissar there as saying "When the war is over you in America are going to need wood and wood pulp. And we're going to need machines, all kinds of machines. We're not so far away from you, as soon as we get the Arctic Sea route open. Come and get it; we'll be glad to swap." Willkie says that Yakutsk is about a thousand miles from a railroad and he mentions some of its undeveloped resources: silver, nickel, copper, lead and oil—fish, salt and ivory. "These people," he concludes, "have developed an enthusiasm and a self-confidence which reminded me repeatedly of the romance of our own Western development."

I could continue for hours on this subject. South America alone would justify it. In the Argentine the total area under plow is probably not more than about 25 per cent of the land suitable for tillage. Her present population of thirteen million is only a small fraction of what her territory would sustain. An economist writes of another South American country, Brazil: "Less than five per cent of the total area is at present under cultivation, and improved transportation should open up great areas to westward expansion. . . . There has never been a systematic geological survey of the country, and both Brazil and the outside world may yet be pleasantly surprised by the discovery of new resources. In the State of Minas Geraes lies the greatest body of high grade iron ore in the world, estimated at twelve billion tons."

In fact this old earth of ours, far from having reached the saturation point, is only at the beginning of its productive development, agriculturally and industrially. The horizons for enterprise are unlimited. Consider for a moment just one aspect of opening up these rich and untapped resources of the earth. The United States has a population of 135,000,000 and it has 232,000 miles of railroad. China has 475,000,000 people and 6,400 miles of railroad. It has three and a half times as many people and less than one-thirtieth the railroad mileage. Russia has 166,000,000 people and 50,000 miles of railroad. More people than the United States and one-fifth the railroad mileage. All Asia has 1,155,000,000 people and 86,000 miles of railroad. Africa has 150,000,000 people and 45,000 miles of railroad. In fact the United States and Europe together have only about 11 per cent of the total land area of the earth, yet these two regions have 60 per cent of all the railroad mileage on earth. You can see the immediate task that may very well face air transport in opening the gates to new continents. But for us in America air transport, the greatest inspiration lies in the possibilities those countries offer in every field of industry and exchange, after the air age has made it easier for them to develop themselves.

And perhaps you can see why we in this industry sometimes feel as the Lord must have felt when the devil took him to the mountain top and showed him all the kingdoms of the earth and said, "All these things will I give thee, and the glory of them, if thou wilt fall down and worship me"—except that we believe we hear the whisper of a higher voice than Satan's and when it speaks it says, "All these things will I give thee, and the glory of them, if thy faith be great enough, and thy purpose be one of good will." We believe, rashly perhaps, we aviation men, that we have a mission as well as a business. Because we're in a pioneer game, we have a pioneer's high heart. All of us want a chance at this stupendous opportunity, with whatever skill we have acquired, but above all in the way of Americans of old. Give us that chance, and perhaps the faith will be great enough, the heart high enough and the purpose equal to the challenge.

Gentlemen, the spirit in which the seed is sown will mark the fruit this tree will bear. If you make your air lines political instruments—if you make them instruments of nationalistic and imperialistic policy, the fruit will wither on the branch. But let your air lines be expressions of the pioneer spirit of America, of the pioneer spirit everywhere, if you can—expressions of personal adventure—of free, individual energy and hope in the hearts of free and enterprising men, and what a difference you will find in the harvest!

*Reference is made to the three employees longest in the service of the company, present at the speaker's table. These, in addition to the speaker, were Erma Murray, Assistant Secretary, and Captain L D. Anderson.