Walter Varney

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Walter Thomas Varney
Walter T. Varney, founder of predecessors of United and Continental Airlines, in 1921
BornDecember 26, 1888
DiedJanuary 25, 1967(1967-01-25) (aged 78)
Occupation(s)Pilot, Airline executive
SpouseAileen Varney
Parent(s)Thomas and Ella Varney

Walter Thomas Varney (December 26, 1888 – January 25, 1967)[1] was an American aviation pioneer who founded forerunners of two major U.S. airlines, United Airlines[2] and Continental Airlines,[3] which combined under United Continental Holdings long after his death. 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[edit]

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 United States 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.

Continental Airlines was founded in 1934 by 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]

In 1932, Varney contributed half of the $40,000 needed to purchase the Lockheed division of Detroit Aircraft Corporation out of bankruptcy.[4] The company was reorganized in Burbank, California as the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation.[5] Varney retired from that company in 1951.[1]

Later years and death[edit]

In his later years, Varney suffered from chronic pulmonary emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and valvular heart disease.[1] He lived for a time with the family of his son-in-law, 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 Memorial Park in Colma, California 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. ISBN 007022014X.
  5. ^ Aerofiles: A Century of American Aviation Lockheed 1 to J History Notes