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Walter Varney

Walter Thomas Varney
Born December 26, 1888
San Francisco, California
Died January 25, 1967(1967-01-25) (aged 78)
Santa Barbara, California
Occupation Pilot, Airline executive
Spouse(s) Aileen Varney
Parent(s) Thomas and Ella Varney
Walter T. Varney, founder of predecessors of United and Continental Airlines, 1921

Walter Thomas Varney (December 26, 1888 in San Francisco, California – January 25, 1967 in Santa Barbara, California)[1] was an American aviation pioneer who founded forerunners of two major U.S. airlines United Airlines[2] and Continental Airlines.[3] Varney was also one of the most prominent airmail contractors of the early 20th century.

Varney served as a pilot in the Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps during World War I. After the war Varney established an aviation school and air taxi service in northern California.


  • Aviation career 1
    • Founder of Varney Flying Service and Varney Air Group, predecessor of United Airlines 1.1
    • Founder of Varney Speed Lines, predecessor of Continental Airlines 1.2
    • Participant in Lockheed Corporation Reorganization 1.3
  • Later years and death 2
  • Notes 3

Aviation career

Founder of Varney Flying Service and Varney Air Group, predecessor of United Airlines

In October 1925, Varney was awarded one of the first contracts under the recently passed Contract Air Mail Act after the determination was made the U.S. Army Air Corps was not suited for air mail flying. He based his operation, Varney Air Service, in Pasco, Washington, and flew routes between Pasco, and Elko, Nevada, stopping in Boise, Idaho each way. Varney's first airmail flight took off on April 6, 1926.

Varney, following a five company merger, sold the much expanded Varney Air Group in 1930 to United Aircraft and Transport. The company's name was changed to United Air Lines in 1933.

Founder of Varney Speed Lines, predecessor of Continental Airlines

Continental Airlines was founded in 1934 by Walter Varney and his partner Louis Mueller as Varney Speed Lines.[3] On July 15, 1934, Varney Speed Lines flew its first trip on a 530-mile route from Pueblo, Colorado to El Paso, Texas[3] with stops in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and Santa Fe and Albuquerque New Mexico. Varney ceded control to Mueller in 1934, and in 1936 a controlling interest in the company was sold to Robert Six who renamed it Continental Airlines in 1937, moving its headquarters to Denver.[3]

Participant in Lockheed Corporation Reorganization

In 1932, Varney contributed half of the $40,000 needed to purchase the Lockheed division of Burbank, California as the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation.[5] Varney retired from that company in 1951.[1]

Later years and death

In his later years, he suffered from chronic pulmonary emphysemia, chronic bronchitis, and valvular heart disease.[1] He lived for a time with the family of his daughter, Mrs. Richard Lambert. He died of bronchial pneumonia on Jan. 25, 1967 at Dani's Nursing Home in Santa Barbara, California. He was buried in Cypress Lawn cemetery in San Francisco in the Varney family plot[1]


  1. ^ a b c d Varney Santa Barbara DCT or Obit Accessed 21 June 2007
  2. ^ United Airlines Website,Era 2: 1926 - 1933
  3. ^ a b c d Continental Airlines Website, Company History 1934 to 1958
  4. ^ Christy, Joe (1994). American Aviation: An Illustrated History. McGraw-Hill Professional. p. 345.  
  5. ^ Aerofiles: A Century of American Aviation Lockheed 1 to J History Notes
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