Absolutely, Overnight

January 15, 1976

We probably didn’t know enough to panic, but this was a major moment for Memphis, buried on page 35, right below a feature on tamale vendors.

Federal Express Corp. is considering moving the small package airline out of Memphis in an effort to cut fuel costs and make its fleet more productive.

Founder and CEO Frederick W. Smith said at least 60 percent of the company’s business was north and east of Memphis so it made sense to be closer to its customers.

It’s strictly a matter of economics.

Looking back: “I supposed at the time of this article — although I don’t recall it — given high fuel prices and the inability to get the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) to authorize FedEx to operate larger, more efficient planes (DC-9s), we were re-evaluating the original decision (to locate in Memphis),” Smith said. “Fortunately, in 1977, Congress passed air cargo deregulation, and we got bigger equipment, 727s, to handle our extraordinary growth and the issue became moot.”

At the time, the company employed 800 in Memphis and handled fewer than 60,000 packages a day. Today, FedEx processes nine million packages a day across its massive worldwide system and isn’t just the city’s main economic engine, employing 30,000, but a critical part of the city’s global identity.

As Smith alluded, that decision by the CAB changed everything for FedEx, and in those early years it recorded a litany of major moments: adding 727s to its fleet in 1977; being listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1978; expanding onto land occupied by the Tennessee National Guard in 1979; and Smith donning a pilot's cap in 1983 to fly one of the company's original planes, a Falcon fanjet, to Maryland so it could be displayed at the Smithsonian.

Perhaps the last paragraph of this brief story, in August 1973, best demonstrates how spectacularly Smith’s company evolved.

Ground will be broken this morning for the Federal Express administration building on Sprankel near Memphis International Airport.
The structure will be the final phase of Federal Express’ $2.9 million expansion program into Memphis. Company president Frederick W. Smith will turn the first spade of dirt at about 9:30 a.m.
Federal Express is a small package airline.