Seventy-five years ago, Delta made its official but humble entry into the cargo business: 200 pounds of freshly picked mushrooms loaded aboard a DC-3 destined for Atlanta, making farm-to-table a possibility decades before it became a culinary hashtag.
That first week of operation in 1946, the airline carried a little bit of everything to customers across the U.S.: a 64-year-old, $1,500 soup tureen; 1,100 pounds of auto parts filling six crates; 450 pounds of candy; a box of silver coins. Delta planes had served the Allied cause during World War II, transporting everything from food and surgical supplies to weapons and auto parts overseas. That helped give Delta what was needed to turn cargo transport into a full-fledged business.
In the decades since, the cargo team has marked a number of milestones, including:
- 1950-1953: Delta volunteers to ship blood donated through the American Red Cross to United Nations forces during the Korean War.
- 1953: The international cargo service launches, with flights to the Caribbean and Venezuela.
- 1954: Disaster relief efforts for the Haitian community after Hurricane Hazel.
- 1958: Frank Taylor becomes Delta’s first air freight passenger, flying with a shipment of roses from Philadelphia to Atlanta.
- 1959: “King” becomes the first dog to fly on a commercial jet from Houston to New York City.
- 1966: A Delta L-100 cargo plane carries NASA’s Surveyor 3 spacecraft from Los Angeles to Cape Kennedy, Florida, launching site – the first time a spacecraft was carried by regular commercial aircraft.
- 1970: The launch of DASH, which has become Delta’s most popular cargo product.
- 1986: Delta makes history in 1986 when U.S.-manufactured cars begin shipping to Germany via a U.S. air carrier. Two Corvettes were shipped on a L-1011-500 flight from Dallas to Frankfurt, with two Firebirds on a following flight.
- 1998: Delta launches the first international cargo alliance with Swissair, before becoming a founding member of SkyTeam Cargo in 2000.
- 2017: Delta opens its first Cargo Control Center to improve customer experience.
- 2017: Launch DASH Critical, with distinctive pink packaging, marking priority shipments.
“The airline has grown, and the nature of our Cargo business has changed significantly over the last 75 years, but we are still in the business of providing Best-in-Class service to our customers with any of their freight and logistics needs – large or small,” said Robert Walpole, Vice President, Delta Cargo. “We are here to support our customers and communities in the U.S. and across the globe. We look forward to another remarkable 75 years.”
Today, Delta Cargo offers access to industry-leading shipping solutions and carries on average 2.2 billion cargo tons every year. Whether it’s transporting life-saving pharmaceuticals, organs for transplant, fresh flowers, seasonal produce or beloved pets, Delta Cargo’s strong product portfolio provides world-class service for every customer’s needs.
The team also regularly assists with humanitarian efforts in the communities it serves, carrying over 800,000 pounds of supplies to cities in need after Hurricane Maria struck in 2017. Delta also has carried essential protective equipment and medical supplies around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic.