(1896-1977) Enshrined November 14, 2009
Kingsport entrepreneur, E. Ward King, founded Southeast Airlines. Tennessee’s first intrastate commuter airline in 1956, at age 61. Born in Hawkins County, the son of a Methodist Minister, Ward King grew up on the campus of Emory & Henry College. He worked at the Overland Automobile Factory in Toledo, Ohio before entering military service where he served as a truck driver and mechanic in the Army Transportation Corps in France and Germany during WWI. After the war he worked in automobile services in North Fork, WV. After applying for a Studebaker dealership he was assigned to Kingsport, Tennessee. He moved his family there in 1925. The business was closed during the depression and in 1932, he founded Mason & Dixon Lines with two partners whom he later bought out. Mason & Dixon became the largest family owned trucking company in the U.S. Mr. King’s ability to maximize the use of his time and talents through the use of his own company aircraft provided the vision of a cross-state commuter airline and Southeast Airlines was born. After purchasing five DC-3’s from United Airlines and hiring personnel he built a hangar and administrative offices at Tri-Cities Airport. On February 8, 1957 scheduled daily flights began with two westbound flights originating from Tri-Cities Airport and two eastbound flights leaving Memphis – serving the cities of Jackson, Dyersburg, Union City, Clarksville, Nashville, Tullahoma, Chattanooga and Knoxville. During the first five months of operations, Southeast Airlines flew 10,000 passengers throughout Tennessee. This encouraged expansion and two pressurized Convair 240’s were added to the fleet in 1959. Realizing that interstate transportation of mail, passengers and freight and connections with other airlines would be necessary to continue growing, and to be financially successful, Southeast petitioned the CAB for that authority. Their bid was unsuccessful and another airline was awarded the routes. In August 1960, Southeast Airlines was forced to fold its wings. One of the airline’s Convairs, named “The General” became a corporate aircraft for Mason & Dixon Lines and six years later, on Christmas Day 1966, E. Ward King and Mason & Dixon donated that extraordinary aircraft and thousands of dollars worth of spare parts to The University of Tennessee.
To learn more, visit: www.tnairmuseum.com