Count von Zeppelin, inventor of the airship, partnered with a group of other German industrialists to create a Zeppelin manufacturing company and also an airline.
Their first airship, the enormous LZ1, launched July 2, 1900. It crashed and survived but the test was not successful for the German government to invest more funds in airships. Frustrated, Zeppelin solicited small amounts of money from other governments. He’d exhausted his personal savings on the first airship so mortgaged his wife’s estate to continue the project.
LZ2 was damaged by high winds and LZ3 worked well enough to justify government investment if it could stay afloat for 24 hours. Since it could not remain aloft Zeppelin built LZ4.
Zeppelin never got along well with German government officials but the public loved the idea of his enormous Zeppelin’s. Building off that enthusiasm, and searching for funding, he launched a passenger-carrying business. The Deutsche Luftschiffahrtsgesellschaft or DELAG, is the world’s first passenger-carrying airline.
DELAG flew people around Europe and, eventually, between Europe and the United States. The company survived WWI and continued service. All was going well until one of its airships, The Hindenburg, on its 36th trans-Atlantic crossing, caught fire.
The first fixed-wing airline was created by entrepreneur Percival Fansler. He purchased a cargo plane from the Benoist Aircraft Company, that took off and landed on water. His airline flew between Tampa and St. Petersburg, a trip that would take two hours by steamship or 4-12 hours by train. The airline folded after four months, when northern residents headed home.
After WWI the US postal service decided to offer air mail and awarded contracts to companies that evolved into many of today’s large airlines. Juan Trippe’s Pan American Airlines, founded in 1927, is arguably the first modern large-scale airline.