Delta Air Lines founder in glorious colour.

August 11, 2019
Delta Air Lines
CE Woolman with dear friend Donald Douglas Snr. Picture colorised by Benoit Vienne.

Frenchman Benoit Vienne has colourized images of Delta Air Lines founder Collett Everman “C.E.” Woolman, who was a giant in the industry through much of the last century.

Mr Vienne is one of the world’s leading colourists and he specialises in people, capturing the textures of their faces perfectly.

Mr Woolman’s career really did span from 1920s Jenny bi-planes to sleek Jets and he turned a crop-dusting company into what is the world’s largest airline.

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Born on October 8, 1889, in Bloomington, Indiana he attended the University of Illinois where he belonged to the Agriculture Glee Club and was a member of the football team.

His real love was aviation, nurtured by inspiration received when he attended the world’s first aviation meet in Rheims, France, between college semesters in 1909.

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He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in agricultural engineering and subsequently became associated with the Extension Department of Louisiana State University, a position which was to bring him ultimately into the field of aviation.

Delta Air Lines
CE Woolman (Left) and Donald Douglas Jnr at the handover of Delta Air Lines first DC-6. Boeing Historical Archives colourized by Benoit Vienne.

After pioneering crop dusting with Jennys in 1929 Woolman purchases three five-passenger, 90 mile-per-hour Travel Air monoplanes, and on June 17, 1929, Delta operated its first passenger flight from Dallas, Texas, to Jackson, Mississippi, with stops at Shreveport and Monroe.

According to the Delta Air Lines Museum “through good times and bad, Woolman’s faith in aviation’s future never flagged. His credo for Delta was: “Any individual or business that is completely honest in all its dealings is likely to succeed.”

The museum continues:

Woolman preferred to leave the limelight to others and was modest and guarded about his private life. For the most part, his charitable efforts remained between him and his chequebook. Few people knew he was a member of the Masonic Fraternity, and he chose to be remembered only as “an active member of the First Presbyterian Church” with regard to his religious life. His hobby of growing orchids was enjoyed by the women working at Delta’s general offices as he often surprised them with the flowers.

The press frequently referred to him as the “stern patriarch” and the “gentle autocrat,” but he had a genuine concern for each of his employees. As his company grew, it caused him considerable dismay that he could no longer remember each employee by name. This intense relationship was mutual. On Woolman’s 25th anniversary with Delta, his employees presented him with a new Cadillac, and although he had other cars, he kept the Cadillac until his death. A painting of Woolman, now at the Delta Flight Museum, was presented to him “on behalf of the pilots of Delta Air Lines, our wives and children, in appreciation for what you have done for us and permitted us to do for ourselves…”

Delta Air Lines
Donald Douglas Snr with CE Woolman at the signing for Delta’s order for DC-8 jets in 1955. Boeing Historical Archives colourized by Benoit Vienne

Woolman was named the chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Delta Air Lines on November 1, 1965. After his death on September 11, 1966, in tribute to Delta’s employees completely reconditioned a 1925 Huff Daland Duster and presented it to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., as a memorial to the early days of the airline industry and the dedicated leader who helped shape its development. Another Woolman memorial, designed and built by Delta personnel, stands at the entrance to Delta’s Atlanta Technical Operations Center.

Here is a video on Mr Woolman. 



  1. Mr. ThomasLet me thank you so much this wonderful article about Mr. Woolman, one of our truly greatest airline pioneers of his time. I am always reminded of his customer service mantra: "We try to put ourselves on the other side of the counter." Every airline and every business that has contact with the public should live by this simple but truly compelling statement of action and conscience. Braniff and Delta grew up through the years together with both carrier's founders crossing paths in South America before ultimately both founding establishments one year apart that would set the standards of airline excellence over the ensuing decades. A personal salute to Mr. Woolman and, of course, to you Mr. Thomas for remembering and honoring this truly great man.Richard Ben Cass Chairman Braniff Airways, Inc. Braniff International Corporation Dallas, Texas
  2. Dear Richard, Thank you very much for your kind note. It is a real pleasure to bring to life these great men with colour. Next is CR Smith and then Pat Patterson. Would love to do the Braniff brothers if you can help with high-resolution images? Let me know. Kind regards, Geoffrey Thomas Editor-in-Chief