Marker Logo HMdb.org THE HISTORICAL
MARKER DATABASE
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
St. Petersburg in Pinellas County, Florida — The American South (South Atlantic)
 

World's First Regularly Scheduled Commercial Airline

 
 
World's First Regularly Scheduled Commercial Airline Marker image. Click for full size.
By AGS Media, October 13, 2011
1. World's First Regularly Scheduled Commercial Airline Marker
Inscription. Within a decade after the famous Wright Brothers' 1903 flight, aviation history was being made in Florida. The first transcontinental flight landed at Jacksonville in 1912, a naval air training center opened at Pensacola in 1913, and the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line, the world's first regularly scheduled commercial airline, began service in 1914. Tom Benoist, a pioneer airboat (seaplane) manufacturer from St Louis, started this cargo and passenger airline as well as a flying school on Tampa Bay. Backed by members of the St. Petersburg Board of Trade, he built hangars on the north edge of the yacht basin. Anthony "Tony" Jannus, Benoist's head pilot, took the airline's first passenger, former mayor A. C. Pheil, across the bay in a biplane on January 1, 1914. Pheil's high bid of $400 at an auction held before the flight brought him this honor. The twenty mile maiden flight of the new service took twenty-three minutes to complete. A few days later, a light cargo was for the first time flown across the bay. The activities of this airline demonstrated that air travel was practical although services were discontinued after only a few months due to financial and technical difficulties.
 
Erected 1976 by the City of St. Petersburg, in cooperation with the Florida Department of State. (Marker Number
World's First Regularly Scheduled Commercial Airline Marker image. Click for full size.
By AGS Media, October 13, 2011
2. World's First Regularly Scheduled Commercial Airline Marker
Beyond the fence is Albert Whitted Airport.
F-274.)
 
Location. 27° 45.961′ N, 82° 37.782′ W. Marker is in St. Petersburg, Florida, in Pinellas County. Marker is on Bayshore Drive SE east of Dali Boulevard, on the left. Click for map. The marker is located on the grounds of Albert Whitted Park, which is immediately north of Albert Whitted Airport, along the South Yacht Basin of the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina. Marker is in this post office area: Saint Petersburg FL 33701, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. World Record (about 600 feet away, measured in a direct line); Peter Demens (approx. mile away); Demens Landing (approx. 0.3 miles away); Pioneer Park (approx. 0.4 miles away); Stonewall Jackson Memorial Highway Terminus (approx. 0.4 miles away); Soreno Hotel (approx. half a mile away); The World's First Scheduled Airline (approx. half a mile away); St. Mary, Our Lady of Grace Church (approx. half a mile away). Click for a list of all markers in St. Petersburg.
 
More about this marker. The marker is capped with the Great Seal of the State of Florida.

The marker is found along St. Petersburg's waterfront in Albert Whitted Park, a municipal park opened by the city in 2008. The park overlooks the city's yacht basin, and beyond it, the waters
Tony Jannus and Percy E. Fansler with the Benoist XIV image. Click for full size.
January 1, 1914
3. Tony Jannus and Percy E. Fansler with the Benoist XIV
Courtesy: Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida [RC06090]
of Tampa Bay. It also overlooks Albert Whitted Airport, which is municipally operated as well. Fittingly, the park features an an aviation themed playground.

Named for a city native who became one of the U.S. Navy's first pilots, the airport was established in 1928. The airport gained two distinctions in the 1930's, serving as one of the first bases for the Goodyear Blimp, as well as the first headquarters for National Airlines (which merged with Pan Am in 1980). Today, Albert Whitted Airport primarily serves as a general aviation facility.
 
Regarding World's First Regularly Scheduled Commercial Airline. Prior to 1914, travel between the cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa was a day's journey achieved either by a slow boat, or a very indirect land route (64 miles by train). The first bridge to span Tampa Bay would not be built for another ten years, so land travel required going up and around Old Tampa Bay and trekking most of the peninsular length of Pinellas County.

Early aircraft builder Tom Benoist (pronounced "Ben-wah") had designed his Benoist XIV "flying boat" in 1913, with the hopes that passengers could be carried in the extra seat. Hearing of the plane, Florida businessman Percival E. Fansler was so impressed by the concept that he wrote Benoist, asking about the possibility of starting a scheduled, commercial
Opening of the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line image. Click for full size.
January 1, 1914
4. Opening of the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line
Owner Percival Fansler, passenger Abram Pheil, and pilot Tony Jannus
Courtesy: Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida [RC02607]
air service. Benoist responded with enthusiasm, and the two became business partners. Their experimental concept was poorly received in Fansler's home city of Jacksonville, so he set his sights on Tampa Bay. There, he found strong support and financial backing from the businesses and leaders in St. Petersburg, who agreed to subsidize the new airline service for three months. The contract was signed on December 17, 1913 (10th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first successful flight).

Two of the Benoist XIV airboats were shipped (disassembled) to St. Pete by train, along with their 6-cylinder, 75-hp, propeller engines. Once assembled, the wood and fabric aircraft each weighed 1,250 pounds, stretching 26 feet in length with a 44 feet wingspan. The task of flying the planes would fall to the new airline's pilot, Antony Habersack "Tony" Jannus, who had been working for Benoist as a test pilot since 1911. The 25 year-old Jannus would become the first federally licensed pilot in the United States.

Thousands of onlookers gathered at the city's waterfront on New Year's Day in 1914 to witness the inaugural flight of the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line. At the marina they found a band playing and the first round-trip ticket being auctioned off. The $400 winning bid from Abram C. Pheil was quite a bit more than the regular published fare of $10. As final preparations were
First Regularly Scheduled Commercial Airline Lands in Tampa image. Click for full size.
January 1, 1914
5. First Regularly Scheduled Commercial Airline Lands in Tampa
Pilot Tony Jannus can be seen waving.
Courtesy: Florida Photographic Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida [RC04751]
made for the 10 a.m. flight, Percival Fansler spoke to the gathered crowd:

"The airboat line to Tampa will only be a forerunner of great activity along these lines in the near future...What was impossible yesterday is an accomplishment today, while tomorrow heralds the unbelievable."

When all was ready and the airboat was in the water, both passenger and pilot boarded the plane and took their seats. Once the engine was cranked, Jannus bid farewell to the cheering crowds, taxied out, and took off towards Tampa.

Flying at about 50 feet, the flight took twenty-three minutes to cross the bay. They ran into some engine trouble on the way, but Jannus simply landed in the bay, fixed the problem, and took back off. Upon their arrival at the entrance to the Hillsborough River in downtown Tampa (where today a park is named for Tony Jannus), they were again greeted by thousands of cheering spectators. While in Tampa, Pheil spoke with reporters and conducted some financial business before boarding the airboat once again for his return trip. Jannus safely delivered plane and passenger back to St. Petersburg after a twenty minute flight.

The next day, the new airline transported its first female passenger, Mae Peabody, who was visiting from Dubuque, Iowa.

The airline operated two round-trip flights daily, six days a week, and later expanded
Albert Whitted Park image. Click for full size.
By AGS Media, October 13, 2011
6. Albert Whitted Park
The marker is located in the park.
service with flights south to Manatee, Bradenton, and Sarasota. Freight service was also offered at $5 per 100 pounds. The airline fulfilled its three month contract and continued to operate for another five weeks after that, safely transporting a total of 1,250 passengers. With the decline of the winter tourist season, however, interest and demand for the airline diminished, and it closed.

Jannus' role as the world's first airline pilot is commemorated with the Tony Jannus Award, which is awarded annually for outstanding achievements in commercial aviation. A replica of the Benoist XIV airboat flown by the airline is displayed at the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport.
 
Related markers. Click here for a list of markers that are related to this marker.
 
Also see . . .
1. Tony Jannus and the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line. Detailed history and photos from Tampapix.com (Submitted on November 9, 2011, by Glenn Sheffield of Tampa, Florida.) 

2. The Tony Jannus Award. See an interesting video presented by the Tony Jannus Distinguished Aviation Society (Submitted on November 10, 2011, by Glenn Sheffield of Tampa, Florida.) 

3. Jannus' navigational aid: First United Methodist Church, Tampa. To plot his flight path, Jannus relied on the tallest landmark available,
St. Petersburg Marina image. Click for full size.
By AGS Media, October 13, 2011
7. St. Petersburg Marina
Opening to Tampa Bay
a church spire. To see a picture of the old steepled structure which caught Jannus' eye, follow this link to the historical marker for Tampa's first church. (Submitted on November 10, 2011, by Glenn Sheffield of Tampa, Florida.) 
 
Categories. Air & SpaceIndustry & Commerce
 
Airport Control Tower with portrait of Benoist XIV image. Click for full size.
By AGS Media, October 13, 2011
8. Airport Control Tower with portrait of Benoist XIV
Replica Benoist model XIV Airboat image. Click for full size.
By AGS Media, December 8, 2011
9. Replica Benoist model XIV Airboat
A full-scale replica of the aircraft flown by the airline is on display at the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport.
World's First Regularly Scheduled Commercial Airline Marker image. Click for full size.
By Mike Stroud
10. World's First Regularly Scheduled Commercial Airline Marker
On grounds of Albert Whitted Park, next to Albert Whitted Airport
World's First Regularly Scheduled Commercial Airline Marker near the Dali Museum image. Click for full size.
By Mike Stroud
11. World's First Regularly Scheduled Commercial Airline Marker near the Dali Museum
at Albert Whitted Park
World's First Regularly Scheduled Commercial Airline Marker image. Click for full size.
By Mike Stroud, March 22, 2013
12. World's First Regularly Scheduled Commercial Airline Marker
View during the running of the 2013 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, behind the temporary bleachers added
 
 
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Glenn Sheffield of Tampa, Florida. This page has been viewed 1,394 times since then and 33 times this year. Last updated on , by Glenn Sheffield of Tampa, Florida. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. submitted on , by Glenn Sheffield of Tampa, Florida.   9. submitted on , by Glenn Sheffield of Tampa, Florida.   10, 11. submitted on , by Mike Stroud of Bluffton, South Carolina.   12. submitted on , by Mike Stroud of Bluffton, South Carolina. • Craig Swain was the editor who published this page. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
Paid Advertisement