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Flashback Fridays: Closing the Texas Triangle and the Power of Three

Aviator C

Three may just be the most important number in our society.  We see it everywhere.  Each side of the ancient pyramids forms a triangle.  It’s in our fairy tales with the three little pigs, the three bears, and Aladdin’s three wishes.  How many jokes have you heard that start with a variation of a "blonde, a brunette, and a redhead,” an "Englishman, an Irishman, and a Scotsman, or some other disparate trio?”  Baseball has three strikes, three outs, and nine innings (3x3).  The Holy Trinity, three wise men, and the three men on crosses are foundations of Christianity.  Three also has been very important to Southwest Airlines.  We started with three airplanes flying to three cities.  The original “Texas Triangle” is part of the foundation of our Culture, part of our corporate “theology” if you will.  After all, Cofounders Herb Kelleher and Rollin King sketched out the triangle over drinks at San Antonio’s St. Anthony Club as they decided to begin Southwest.


We didn’t close the bottom leg of that Texas Triangle until November 14, 1971, five months after our first flight.  Incidentally, that is the same date we moved some of our Houston flights from Intercontinental to a reopened Houston Hobby.  Eva and Dave Olian sent us this photo of that first San Antonio to Houston flight back in 1971.  They had won their tickets on the inaugural flight through a contest.  If, like me, you survived the 1970s, you will recognize the fashions Eva and Dave are wearing—check out those collars.  The photo represents our first expansion step. (Airplane geeks will appreciate the close up of the mechanism of the air stairs.)


Some folks think the idea of Southwest’s original triangle is revisionist public relations spin at work to make our history seem more heroic, or that it is part of a myth-building exercise to glorify our early days.  While we don’t have THE napkin upon which Herb and Rollin sketched the first triangle, we do have the the photo above that shows Harold Reilly (left) conferring with Don Ogden, our First Vice President of Flight Operations.  Behind them is a very early and very literal framed representation of the Texas Triangle over a roadmap of Texas.  (It’s also a clear reminder that our primary competition was the automobile.)


The close-up above of the triangle shows San Antonio, with the leg running north to Dallas, and the leg east to Houston.  These two photos were taken at the old Headquarters building between 1972 and early 1974. They offer proof that clearly shows the concept of the triangle has been with us for a very long time.


The idea of three plays an important role throughout Southwest’s history.  Last week, we looked at some color photos of our late-1970s ticket counters.  This view of the counter at Houston Hobby mirrors the décor of our other ticket counters at the time, and it  features three stylized hearts and airplanes that are representative of our original cities and three original aircraft.


Later, our longtime logo featured a three-bar design, and about 1982 or 1983, it replaced the stylized hearts at Love Field (above) and our other facilities like the Skycap podium at the very top.  Even though today we have a lot more than three airplanes and three cities, Southwest’s Culture still comes in threes.  We live the Southwest Way with a Warrior Spirit, a Fun-LUVing Attitude, and a Servant’s Heart. And, we have kept three of our aircraft painted in our original colors (below at Chicago Midway, courtesy of Paul Thompson).  The power of three is what connects us with those wild and wooly early days.