The Rapide is a descendant of both the D. H. 83 Fox Moth and the D. H. 84 Dragon. The Dragon was developed in response to a request from a Fox Moth operator for a twin engined passenger aircraft for service between southern England and Paris. The slab sided plywood box assembly used successfully on the Fox was adapted for the Dragon. The Rapide evolved from the Dragon with more power and greater overall performance. The D. H. 89 Rapide design was modified in March 1937 by the addition of small trailing-edge flaps fitted to the lower wings outboard of the engine nacelles. This modification became known as the D. H. 89A.
The original 89 design was flown for the first time on April 17, 1934 and quickly became known for its efficiency, reliability and versatility; some were flown on floats and skis. Fred Hotson, in his book de Haviland Story, suggests that the Rapide carried the airline industry from the single engine to the twin engine stage and proved to be one of the first real money making aircraft in the business. Several were assembled by de Haviland at Downsview, Ontario for Canadian use and were operated by Canadian Airways, Quebec Airways, Matane Air Services, Central North Airways, Queen Charlotte Airways and others.