El Al Is Founded

November 15, 1948

El Al, Israel’s national airline is officially founded and legally incorporated.  On September 29, 1948, Chaim Weizmann was abroad in Geneva, where he had undergone an eye operation. Due to an embargo placed on Israel and other combatants in the 1948 War, Israel was not able to use a military plane to retrieve Weizmann and bring them to Israel.  An Israeli Air Force DC-4 plane was painted and rebranded as “El-Al Ltd. – Israel National Aviation Company.”  The plane was sent to Geneva to pick up Weizmann and his wife, where they brought them to Israel so that Weizmann could be sworn as Israel’s first President.

Moshe Shertok (Sharett) flew on the plane from Israel to Geneva where he delivered citizenship papers to Weizmann and then continued on to the United Nations sessions in Paris.  The flight from Geneva to Israel took just under ten hours and was staffed by a crew described by the Jerusalem Post as being, “dressed in dark blue uniforms with silver braided cuffs and caps, and included two members of the Women’s Auxiliary as hostesses, as well as a steward.”  After delivering the new President, the plane was returned to military service.

On November 15, the company was officially incorporated as “The El Al Israel Air Company” with a 1.1 million Lira of capitalization.  The Israeli government held the controlling interest in the new airline with other Israeli corporations holding smaller shares, most notably the steamship company ZIM.  The name of the airline was taken from the book of Hosea (11:7), meaning “upwards” or “to the skies.” In its early years, the new airline focused mainly on bringing in refugees from Yemen and Iraq.  In July 1949, it inaugurated its first regular commercial service, a weekly flight between Lod airport, near Tel Aviv and Paris. In June 1950 after the ratification of the US-Israel air agreement, the airline began flying regular charter service between Lod airport and New York.

The photo shows the inaugural plane which picked up Chaim Weizmann in September 1948 (Source: El Al Archives)