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Archives at The Museum of Flight

Gorst, Vern C., 1876-1953



  • Existence: 1876 August 18 - 1953 October 18

Biographical Note: Vern C. Gorst

Vern C. Gorst was an early aviator in the Pacific Northwest. He was the founder of Pacific Air Transport and was known as the "Grandad" of United Air Lines.

Vergne Centenial “Vern” Gorst was born August 18, 1876 in Belle Prairie, Morrison County, Minnesota to John Phillips and Lorinda Moore Coe Gorst. In 1888, the Gorst family relocated by train to the Pacific Northwest, settling in the Kitsap Peninsula in Washington State. Gorst began his first transportation business at age 13, using a raft to transport chickens across Port Orchard bay. He attended a business college in Seattle, Washington for a short time before going to Alaska in 1896 to prospect during the gold rush. He returned to the Puget Sound area around 1903 and invested his gold earnings in various transportation ventures. He established a motor-launch service between Port Orchard, Bremerton and Mannett, Washington, using a fleet of three boats as ferries which operated until 1904. At that point he sold his business and moved to North Bend, Oregon.

Over the next several decades, Gorst established a number of transportation companies, including a number of bus lines in Washington, Oregon and northern California. In 1914, he and a partner used an airplane engine and a propeller to make a motorized boat on Coos Bay, Oregon which then evolved into the first air-propelled land-and-water machine to carry freight across the bay and up the Umpqua River. His focus eventually shifted to aviation when he became a self-taught pilot at age 38 learning to fly a Glenn Martin hydroplane from Coos Bay. He was soon advertising passenger flights from North Bend to Marshfield, Oregon.

In 1914 his Martin plane was damaged and kept him from flying but in 1925 he raised $250,000 to win a bid for the first airmail contract between Seattle and Los Angeles, California. With the contract from the Post Office in hand, he established his new company, Pacific Air Transport (PAT), and began the first air mail service on the West Coast. He charged $132 for passengers to fly with him on his mail-delivery trips. He ordered ten Ryan M-1s, supporting T. Claude Ryan’s first production line of his monoplane.

Gorst sold controlling interest in PAT in 1928 to Boeing Air Transport and the merger eventually led to the formation of United Air Lines. Gorst then started the Seattle Flying Service, flying from what was known as the "Gorst Sand Lot" along the Duwamish River. At the time it was Seattle's only commercial airport until Boeing Field was established. The service offered flight instruction, ground crew instruction, and scenic flights. In 1929 he changed the company name to Gorst Air Transport and began providing air ferry serivce with flights between Seattle and Bremerton, Washington with a Keystone Loening Amphibian. Rates started at $2.50. He also started commercial flights with both airmail and passengers over the Gulf of Alaska, between Juneau and Cordova. Gorst Air Transport was taken over by Lana Kurtzer in 1938. During World War II Gorst was involved wtih the Civil Air Patrol.

Gorst married Julie Louise Gorst on August 8, 1901 in El Dorado, Dawson City, Alaska. They had two children, Myrtle and Wilbur who was apparently named for Wilbur Wright. Gorst died October 18, 1953 in Portland, Oregon of Hodgkin's lymphoma. He is buried in East Lawn Memorial Park in Sacramento, California.

  • Gorst, Vern. Biographical Files. The Museum of Flight.
  • Stephens, Terry. "Vern Gorst, 'Granddad' Of United Airlines, Had Long History Of 'Firsts'." Airport Journals. Accessed September 8, 2022
  • University of Washington Libraries. "Vern C. Gorst Photographs." Accessed September 8, 2022

  • Various records on accessed September 8, 2022

Found in 2 Collections and/or Records:

Biographical Information Files - G

Scope and Contents Individuals whose names begin with G: Gabreski, Francis S. "Gabby" [Fighter pilot] "A Nation's Loss," Flight Journal, June 2002"Francis Gabreski, 83; Pilot Was War Hero," Los Angeles Times, February 4, 2002Caption for paintingBiograpical sketch from the Department of the Air Force, undated Gagarin, Yuri [Russian cosmonaut] "The Gagarin Inquest," Air...

Vern Gorst Postcard Collection

 Collection — Folder: One
Identifier: 1993-12-21
Scope and Contents The Vern Gorst Postcard Collection is a small collection consisting of two photographic postcards from 1913-1914 inscribed by Gorst to Ellsworth Scott Wetzel. One postcard depicts the 1913 Martin seaplane that Gorst owned landing on the water. The correspondence on the verso of the postcard is dated June 3, 1913 and refers to the plane "as the only safe way of traveling." The other postcard depicts Gorst with another man, possibly Charles King, in a small boat outfitted...

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