How Boston got its first airline route

1929 photograph of Colonial Air Travel passenger plane, by Leslie JonesThe flight from Boston to New York would take one hour forty-five minutes.

It was the mid 1920s: a happening time between world wars. The United State Postal Service had successfully proved its experiment in putting excess planes to work ferrying mail from coast to coast, so that the government felt confident putting its airmail routes out to bid to private aviation companies.

An unknown Charles Lindbergh  would fly mail between Chicago and St. Louis for one of those little firms. Meanwhile, another, Colonial Air Transport, launched in New York City by ex-air force pilo Juan Trippe, who later founded Pan Am, got its first contract in 1925. Colonial originally flew just a mail route between New York and Boston.

However, in 1927, the same year the small airline relocated its headquarters to Boston and Lindbergh captivated Americans with his flight across the Atlantic, Colonial began offering the first regular passenger service. Starting in April, Colonial’s planes, like the one in this photo by photographer Leslie Jones, flew steadily between Boston and New York.

Jones, a Boston Herald-Traveler photographer, took this particular photo in 1929 at the East Boston Airport.

Another company, AVCO purchased Colonial in 1930 and combined it into a network that eventually would become American Airlines.

Photo: Boston Public Library/via Flickr. You can peek inside the airline’s time tables here.

Thirsty horses and trolley cars

Photo of a downtown fountain for thirsty horses via Boston Public Library’s Flickr stream.

Would take one of these for people right about now.

The ASPCA, founded in 1866 spread to many American cities, and lobbied on behalf of draft horses.This scene was already on the wane in the 1920s. Horses were superseded by electric trolley lines through expanding cities (What’s that off in the background? A stretch of elevated railway). This mode of transport first proved commercially viable…in Boston. From “The decline of the urban horse in American cities“:

Henry Whitney, a Boston land speculator, and Charles Francis Adams, Jr (scion of the famous Adams family) built a trolley line to connect their suburban landholdings in Brookline with downtown Boston. Reports on the windfall profits that Whitney made on his property led to the rapid adoption of electric trolleys in other cities. The 1890 census estimated that trolley operation cost only $38,000 per mile, compared with $50,000 for horse cars.

As or more importantly, the automobile also made headway in cities after 1900. More from the same academic publication:

Between 1742, when horses were taxed for the first time, and 1841 there were roughly forty humans for each horse. By 1880 the ratio had dropped to twenty-five, although it was back up to forty in 1900 after the electrification of street railways…by 1920 Boston had fewer horses than in 1820.

Interestingly, Atlantic Ave, where this fountain for parched draft animals is set up has seen a lot of clearance and reconstruction. The streetscape looks nothing like this today. This 1922 photo is another by Leslie Jones, Herald-Traveler staff photographer.

Memories of the Great Molasses Flood

molasses flood damage boston
Destroyed molasses tank, takes out part of the elevated railway between North and South Station, via Bill Warner.

After all this rain, I’ve uncovered an article of memories of Boston’s Great Molasses Flood, which occurred in January, 1919. The flood began when a tank of a 2 million gallon tank of molasses gave way in Boston’s North End, then home to a half dozen or so candy factories; when I was in grade school we still went to candy shops in the North End on school field trips–though by that point it was probably all nostalgia.

The article, from the sixtieth anniversary of the disaster, in 1989, draws on probably some of the last living people with memories of the event. Phillip D’Allesandro was eight years old in 1919:

I was coming home from school at my lunch hour. The elevated trains were stopped. Lots of working people were on their lunch hour. It smelled very sweet. But you couldn’t walk there. You couldn’t cross the street.

More photos after the jump.

Continue reading

Dueling Marbles

marbles tournament, boston common, leslie jones, bpl

It’s Olympics week and for that occasion, we bring you another storied competition from downtown Boston. Besides duels, the Boston Common also hosted less lethal competitions. A marbles competition on the Common in 1924, sponsored by the Herald-Traveler newspaper attracted a large crowd. This photograph was taken by Herald-Traveler’s staff photographer, Leslie Jones. The man on the stepladder is the referee.

This was the era of serious, national marble championships. The same year, the champion of the New England year would go on to vie for the United States Crown in Atlantic City in front of 2,000 spectators.

However, young boys’ sports on the Common weren’t always so well received. The following comes from the Samuel Barber’s book Boston Common, published in 1916.

The Common was always a playground for boys — wicket and flinging of the bullit was much enjoyed.

Flinging the bullit was finally prohibited as dangerous to pedestrians who chanced to be passing. No games were allowed to be played on the Sabbath, and a fine of five shillings was imposed on the owner of any horse seen on the Common on that day. People were not even to stroll on the Common, during the warm weather, on Sunday.

Wicket, at the time, appears to have been a sport related to, but not identical to cricket. ‘Flinging’ or thowing the ‘bullit’ was a sort of shotput competition where a stone, or later on, a ball of metal was thrown along a road or path. The winner covered a fixed distance in the least number of throws.