Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

G. Kurt Piehler

Committee Members

Ernest Freeberg, Denise Phillips, Mark Littmann


Historians have traditionally emphasized the sharp differences between Herbert Hoover’s vision of an associational state and the activism of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. This dissertation highlights an important area of continuity between the economic policies espoused by Hoover—during his tenures as Secretary of Commerce and President—and Roosevelt, focusing on federal efforts to promote the nascent aviation industry from the end of World War I until the passage of the Civil Aeronautics Act in 1938. These efforts were successful, and offer a unique arena in which to document the concrete gains wrought by Hoover’s associationalist ideology and Roosevelt’s New Deal. Moreover, both Hoover’s corporatist policies and New Deal efforts to create aviation infrastructure—largely through the auspices of public works agencies like the Public Works Administration and Works Progress Administration—form a striking example of the government’s ability to successfully foster the development of a new industry, even in the midst of the Great Depression. Significantly, both men’s efforts represented an alternative to nationalization, the path taken by virtually every European nation during the era. This period thus offers the opportunity to examine how both presidents’ aviation policies cohere with their larger visions of government’s proper relationship to the economy, to compare and contrast associationalism and New Deal, and to elucidate aviation’s role in promoting American economic development. During these years government actions expanded from having literally no engagement with commercial aviation to subsidizing airmail routes, creating a regulatory infrastructure to promote safe operations by licensing pilots, inspecting aircraft, approving manufacturing operations, and aggressively promoting flying to the American people. Contextualized by the American public’s well-documented enthusiasm for flying—particularly after Charles Lindbergh’s famous New York-to-Paris flight in 1927—these federal actions created America’s modern air transport network, culminating in the passage of the seminal Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938, the construction and improvement of almost a thousand airports around the country, and the growth of a core group of airlines, including United, Delta, and American, that still dominate commercial flying today.

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