Throwback Thursday | First Passenger Air Service in America

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | | Roy’s dirigible at South Pasadena’s Raymond Hotel (1913)

In 1913, Roy Knabenshue began the first passenger air service in America by taking paying customers of the Raymond Hotel in South Pasadena in his dirigible on a flight 800 feet in the air over parts of the San Gabriel Valley and Los Angeles. The hotel’s proprietor, Walter Raymond, encouraged Roy’s pioneering air travel venture and disliked gas-engine automobiles banning them from his property for several years.

Knabenshue built a large wooden hanger at the base of Raymond Hill. Walter Raymond’s son Arthur credits Roy for his lifelong passion of flight which later led him to design such classic aircraft as the DC-3 and DC-8.

Note: In 1905, Roy Knabenshue’s dirigible raced a Pope-Toledo automobile from Chutes Park’s baseball field in Los Angeles to Raymond Hotel in South Pasadena. The automobile got off to a fast start like Aesop’s Fables’ The Tortoise and The Hare, then had engine trouble and encountered road hazards along the Arroyo Seco causing it to fall behind. Meanwhile, the airship made steady progress toward the Raymond Hotel. Knabenshue’s dirigible touched down on the hotel’s golf course first – beating the Pope-Toledo by a margin of two minutes.

Throwback Thursday is written and produced by Rick Thomas.


Author Rick Thomas is the former museum curator and vice-chair of education for the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation. He served on the South Pasadena Natural Resources Commission, helping to maintain a strict policy protecting the city’s great old-growth trees. Using touchstone photographs from his own collection—one of the San Gabriel Valley’s largest accumulations of historical images and artifacts—as well as national, state, and local historical archives, Thomas provides a window to his city’s past and an understanding of why its preservation is so important.


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