March 26th, 1931- Swissair Takes to the Skies!

On March 26th, 1931, Swissair – Schweizerische Luftverkehr AG (German: Swissair – Swiss Air Transport) was founded through the fusion of the airlines Ad Astra Aero (founded in 1919) and Balair (1925). The founding fathers were Balz Zimmermann and the Swiss aviation pioneer Walter Mittelholzer.

Swissair 680

In contrast to other airlines, it did not receive support from the government. The name “Swissair” was the proposal of Dr. Alphonse Ehinger, president of the directorial board of the Balair, although “Swissair” was first deemed “un-Swiss”. In the first operational year 64 people were employed including ten pilots, seven radio operators and eight mechanics. In total, their planes offered 85 seats and operation was maintained only from March to October. The route network had a length of 4,203 kilometres (2,612 mi).

On April 17th, 1932 Swissair bought two Lockheed Orions, making them the second European airline to use American planes, after the Czechoslovak operator CSA purchased a Ford Trimotor in 1930. The Orion was the fastest commercial airplane of its time and was put to use on the “Express line”, ZurichMunichVienna. This led Lufthansa to ask Heinkel for a model that could top the Orion’s speed, leading to the Heinkel He 70. In 1933, the first trans-Alpine route was introduced in 1933: Zurich-Milan.

For the first time in Europe, flight attendants were employed aboard the Curtiss Condor beginning in 1934. Nelly Diener, first flight attendant of Europe, became world-famous. She lost her life after just 79 flights in a crash near Wurmlingen, Germany, on July 27th, 1934. The cause of the crash was material fatigue.

In 1936, Douglas DC-2s were acquired and London was added to the route network. In 1937, the bigger Douglas DC-3 was bought. In the same year, both founding fathers died: Walter Mittelholzer during mountaineering in the Steiermark, Austria, and Balz Zimmermann succumbed to an infectious disease.

On August 27, 1939, days before World War II broke out, the airspace over Germany and France was closed. Swissair was forced to suspend service to Amsterdam, Paris and London. Two days later, Swissair service was closed completely. Of 180 employees, 131 had to serve in the army. In spite of the war, some routes were re-introduced, such as Munich, Berlin, Rome and Barcelona. In 1940, an invasion of Switzerland was feared, and Swissair moved their operations to the Magadino plains in Ticino. Operations were suspended definitively in August 1944, when a Swissair DC-2 was destroyed in Stuttgart during an American bombing raid.

On July 30th, 1945 Swissair was able to resume commercial aviation.

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


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