Northwest Airlines was founded in 1926 by Col. Lewis Brittin, under the name Northwest Airways. Like other early airlines, Northwest’s focus was not in hauling passengers, but in flying mail for the U.S. Post Office Department. The fledgling airline established a mail route between Minneapolis, Minnesota and Chicago, Illinois, using open cockpit biplanes such as the Curtiss Oriole.
Northwest began flying passengers in 1927. In 1928, the airline started its first international route with service to Winnipeg, Canada. The airline’s operations were expanded to smaller cities in the region by the end of the decade. In 1931 Northwest sponsored Charles and Anne Lindbergh on a pioneering flight to Japan, scouting what would become known as the Northwest Airlines Great Circle route, and proving that flying through Alaska could save as much as 2,000 miles on a New York-Tokyo route. In 1933, Northwest was designated to fly the Northern Transcontinental Route from New York City to Seattle, Washington; it adopted the name Northwest Airlines the following year as a result of the Air Mail Scandal. Northwest stock began to be publicly traded in 1941
During World War II, Northwest joined the war effort by flying military equipment and personnel from the continental United States to Alaska. During this time, Northwest began painting their aircraft tails red, as a visual aid in the often harsh weather conditions. This experience with the severe northern climate led the government to designate Northwest as the United States’ main North Pacific carrier following the war.