Mesaba Airlines was founded in 1944 by Gordy Newstrom in Coleraine, Minnesota. It began operations in the same year under the name of Mesaba Aviation. Mesaba, which took its name from the American Indian word for Soaring Eagle, initially operated one airplane, a Piper Cub purchased for $1,300. Mesaba used the Cub to shuttle employees of the Blandin Paper Mill Company from Grand Rapids, Minnesota to Minneapolis.
In 1950 Newstrom moved the company to Grand Rapids. In 1970, the Halverson family of Duluth, Minnesota bought Mesaba from Newstrom. In February of 1973, they started regularly scheduled airline services serving rural Minnesota communities.
The Swenson family of Thief River Falls, Minnesota purchased Mesaba Aviation in 1977. They took the company public in 1982 as the airline began flying to Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota, using a fleet of Beech 99s
In 1983, Mesaba became a codeshare partner of Republic Airlines, flying turboprop aircraft from small regional communities to the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport. In 1986, after the merger of Republic Airlines and Northwest Orient Airlines, Mesaba transitioned their codeshare partnership, and began operations as a Northwest Airlink carrier.
Mesaba began feeder service from Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport to small airports across the east and mid-west using Fokker F27 and Fairchild Metro aircraft in 1988. Maintenance bases were established both in Detroit and Wausau, Wisconsin.
In 1995, Mesaba and Northwest reached an agreement to provide service with Saab 340 turboprop aircraft. By 1996, Mesaba's fleet consisted of 55 aircraft, with projections of 2006 predicting a fleet of 114 aircraft. The company employed 1,540 employees.
In January 2007 Mesaba Airlines had announced that it has started the Federal Aviation Administration process to begin operating 36 Bombardiar CRJ-900s for Northwest Airlines.
Mesaba was purchased by Delta Airlines as part of their acquisition of Northwest Airlines, and is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Delta. They operate 19 CRJ-200s, 41 CRJ-900s and 49 Saab 340 turbo-prop aircraft to over 65 destinations in the United States.