In the early 1930s, fears about the safety of wooden aircraft structures drove the US aviation industry to develop all-metal airliners. United Airlines had exclusive right to the all metal twin-engine Boeing 247; rival TWA issued a specification for an all-metal trimotor.
The Douglas response was more radical. When it flew on July 1, 1933, the prototype DC-1 had a robust tapered wing, retractable landing gear, and two 690 hp (515 kW) Wright radial engines driving variable-pitch propellers. It seated 12 passengers.
Douglas test pilot Carl Cover flew the first test flight on May 11, 1934, of the DC-2 which was longer than the DC-1, had more powerful engines, and carried 14 passengers in a 66-inch-wide cabin. TWA was the launch customer for the DC-2 ordering twenty. The design impressed American and European airlines and further orders followed. Although Fokker had purchased a production licence from Douglas for $100,000 (about $2,224,000 in 2022) no manufacturing was done in The Netherlands. Those for European customers KLM, LOT, Swissair, CLS and LAPE purchased via Fokker in the Netherlands were built and flown by Douglas in the US, sea-shipped to Europe with wings and propellers detached, then erected at airfields by Fokker near the seaport of arrival (e.g. Cherbourg or Rotterdam). Airspeed Ltd. took a similar licence for DC-2s to be delivered in Britain and assigned the company designation Airspeed AS.23, but although a registration for one aircraft was reserved none were built. Another licence was taken by the Nakajima Aircraft Company in Japan; unlike Fokker and Airspeed, Nakajima built five aircraft as well as assembling at least one Douglas-built aircraft. A total of 130 civil DC-2s were built with another 62 for the United States military.