Bowen Air Lines, Inc.


By: Ray F. Lucas

Type: General Entry

Published: July 19, 2021

Updated: January 19, 2022


Bowen Air Lines, Inc., was a Texas-based passenger airline (see AVIATION) incorporated in Fort Worth on October 1, 1930, by Temple Bowen, Gaby Dee Bowen, R. C. Bowen, and Karl B. Mueller. Temple Bowen served as the corporation’s president, and his wife, Gaby, served as vice-president. Brother R. C. Bowen served as a director.

The airline did not have an auspicious start. A storm from the Gulf of Mexico destroyed the first airplane purchased for the airline while it sat in a Houston hanger during the summer of 1930. The company began operations on October 1, 1930, and flew one airplane between Fort Worth and Houston. The fledging airline was ambitious during its first year and announced plans to fly from Fort Worth to Washington, D.C., by way of Memphis, Knoxville, and Richmond. This route never materialized. The next year, Bowen Air Lines added two Lockheed Orion Model 9 airplanes to its fleet. The Orion 9 was the first passenger aircraft with retractable landing gear and the last wooden frame monoplane made by Lockheed. From 1930 to March 1935, Bowen Air Lines used six-seat Lockheed Orions and Vegas. Temple Bowen preferred the smaller six-passenger Lockheed ships that could travel faster and provide more comfort for passengers.

At the same time the company was expanding its fleet, Bowen and six other airlines formed the Independent Air Passenger Association in July 1931. One of the purposes of the organization was to protest the U. S. Postal Department’s awarding of sixteen airmail contracts to firms that already held other contracts. Access to these lucrative airmail contracts became the major issue the airline’s president wrestled with during the life of the corporation. In early March 1932 Temple Bowen testified before the U.S. House Post Office Committee on the issue. Bowen stated that his company could carry mail between Tulsa and San Antonio at half the rates charged by other air carriers. He argued that his airline carried most of the passengers who flew this route, but that because of the near-monopoly of National Air Transport and American Airways (see AMR CORPORATION) over U.S. mail contracts, his airline would lose money. This was an ironic twist, since American Airways was a successor to St. Tammany Gulf Coast Air Ways, Inc., the company to whom Bowen sold Texas Air Transport, Inc. (TAT) in 1928. TAT had the first two airmail contracts in Texas.

Despite not obtaining an airmail contract, by the airline’s second anniversary, it had planes flying from Fort Worth to Houston, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, and Tulsa. The airline ferried 30,000 passengers and boasted a perfect safety record. Passengers disembarking in Tulsa and Fort Worth could transfer to other carriers for continued trips north and west respectively. In 1933 Temple Bowen was selected to serve on the National Recovery Administration code authority representing the air transportation carriers. The NRA code authority for air transportation was finally approved in June 1934, confirming Temple Bowen and adding T.E. Braniff, president of Braniff Airways, Inc., as members.

As the nation sank deeper into the Great Depression, the airline continued its attempts to increase its revenue stream. Carrying airmail for the Postal Department represented the most lucrative endeavor for the early air carriers. Bowen Air Lines submitted a bid to carry airmail between Fort Worth and St. Louis, a route which the airline already flew passengers. Bowen was underbid on the St. Louis airmail route by American Airlines, the successor company of American Airways, the company that beat Bowen out for the airmail contract two years earlier.

Despite not winning an airmail contract, the company continued to expand its passenger routes. On its fourth anniversary in 1934, Bowen Air Lines added a route to Brownsville and two daily direct flights between Fort Worth and Houston. The new Brownsville route placed Bowen in direct competition with Long & Harman, Inc., who slashed their passenger rates up to 60 percent to fight off the rival Fort Worth airline. Long & Harmon also carried mail and air express packages, an extra revenue generator that Bowen did not have. Later that year, Temple Bowen made a complaint with the Post Office Department about Long & Harmon, who Bowen Air Lines alleged was moving passengers at “unreasonably low fares in violation of the air transportation code.” The Air Line Pilots Association also filed a petition to have Long & Harmon’s airmail contract nullified, as the pilots claimed the company failed to pay wages as required by the National Recovery Act. The Postal Department took no action on the complaint of Bowen Air Lines and argued it had no jurisdiction in the matter. Despite the fierce in-state competition, Bowen reported 1934 as its best business year since its creation.

Seeking to maintain the economic gains achieved in 1934, the airline lowered its rates on passenger fares as much as 14 percent in January 1935 and added air express courier service the next month. In March, Bowen began using new Vultee V-1 planes on the Brownsville route. The faster eight-passenger plane would cut an hour off the flight time between Dallas and Brownsville. The new monoplanes were the same type that James “Jimmy” Doolittle and Leland S. Andrews of American Airways (formerly of TAT) flew to set transcontinental speed records. The regulatory complaints and use of new planes were examples of the intense competition between air carriers in the fledging air transportation industry.

As the airline continued to expand routes and aircraft to increase its market share, the president of the company also extended his influence in industry organizations. In April 1935 Temple Bowen was appointed a member of the air transport and operation committees of the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce of America. The next month, in a setback for Bowen Air Lines, the National Industrial Recovery Act was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. The ruling made the NRA code provisions unenforceable. Temple Bowen’s position representing the independent air carriers on the NRA’s code authority had given Bowen and his airline a large voice in industry regulation. In a news report regarding the court striking down the regulations, Bowen was quoted as being hopeful that the industry would maintain wage and employee levels without the regulations. Despite this setback, October marked the start of the airline’s sixth year of operation, and Bowen Air Lines increased its daily flights to twice per day to most destinations in Texas. The boost in flights allowed for more connecting flights with American Airlines in Dallas and Fort Worth so passengers could reach additional destinations outside of Texas. In the second half of 1935, Bowen Air Lines carried 4,908 passengers and flew 356,071 miles in Texas. Bowen could boast that its passengers included such notables as Clark Gable, Jack Dempsey, and Will Rogers. The airline had flown more than 4,000,000 miles and carried 45,000 passengers in its five full years of operation.

In mid-January 1936, during its sixth year of operation, Bowen Air Lines joined nineteen other air carriers and several railroad companies to form a nationwide combined air-rail express package delivery service. Since the airline could not deliver the U.S. mail, it could deliver the next best thing—express packages. Despite this attempt to increase its revenue stream, the failure to obtain a U.S. airmail contract convinced Temple Bowen of the futility of his flying enterprise. On February 15, 1936, Bowen abruptly decided to cease operations. The lack of a Postal Department contract and the guaranteed revenue it brought had doomed the airline. In a letter to Amon G. Carter, Sr., owner of the Star-Telegram and financial backer of the earlier Bowen-run venture Texas Air Transport, Hugh L. Smith, president of American Airlines, believed that “certain unfair competition and the lack of sufficient patronage by the people of Texas” caused the demise of Bowen Air Lines. Smith was referring to Braniff Airways, which purchased Bowen Air Lines. Emblematic of the financial issues Bowen Air Lines faced, in March 1936 a former pilot, W.A. Moores, filed a suit in state court for collection of a debt, injunction, and receivership. Bowen flights had come to an end.            

Austin American-Statesman, February 4, 1928; December 19, 1933; November 17, 1934; September 12, 30, 1935. Biography of C. R. Smith, American Airlines C. R. Smith Museum, Fort Worth, Texas (https://www.crsmithmuseum.org/visit-the-museum/about/biography-of-c-r-smith), accessed June 30, 2021. Temple Bowen Collection, History of Aviation Archives, Special Collection and Archives Division, Eugene McDermott Library, University of Texas at Dallas. Brownsville Herald, September 30, 1934; March 1, 1935. Davis-Monthan Aviation Field Register (https://dmairfield.org/airplanes/NC960Y/index.html), accessed June 30, 2021. Fort Worth Record-Telegram, October 24, 1927; January 27, 1928; February 6, 1928; October 1, 1930. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, October 13, 1927; July 19, 1931; October 2, 1932; April 12, 1934; May 27, 1934; June 24, 1934; January 1, 4, 19, 1935; March 5, 18, 1935; April 24, 1935; May 28, 1935; September 29,1935; February 17, 1936; March 4, 1936; March 18, 1943; November 19, 1984. Fredericksburg Standard, March 11, 1932. Houston Chronicle, February 16, 1936. John J. Nance, Splash of Colors: The Self-destruction of Braniff International (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1984). San Francisco Examiner, February 28, 1936. Hugh L. Smith, Jr. to Amon G. Carter, February 19, 1936, Letter re: air mail route, Mary Couts Burnett Library, Archives and Historical Collection—Amon G. Carter, Sr. Collection, Digital Archives, Texas Christian University (https://repository.tcu.edu/handle/116099117/25404), accessed June 30, 2021. Robert F. Van der Linden, Airlines and Air Mail: The Post Office and the Birth of the Commercial Aviation Industry (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2002).

 

Categories:
  • Aviation and Aerospace
  • Founders and Pioneers
  • Company Founders
  • Transportation and Railroads
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
Places:
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Fort Worth

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Ray F. Lucas, “Bowen Air Lines, Inc.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 02, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/bowen-air-lines-inc.

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July 19, 2021
January 19, 2022

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