This month I am going to delve into the history of Pan Am and the visionary who brought it to life. The articles will be brief but concise, because there have been many good books written on the man and the airline and I invite you to search out and read those books. As always, I would like all aviators to connect with their roots. One of the ways they can do that is by using the “Third Dimension Blog” as a resource. Come with me now as two-dimensional thinking meets one-dimensional thinking.
“The future is the past returning through another gate.” —Arnold Glasgow
Possibly the greatest aviation story of all time is the Pan Am story, and sadly enough one of the greatest debacles in business history. However, history will always show Juan Trippe, the founder, as one of the most astute, political savvy, and venturesome business leaders of the 20th century.
Juan Trippe was named after his mother’s stepfather who was Cuban, and never really liked his name though it proved to a plus for his career. The Trippe family had English roots, and had migrated to the US in 1663. Trippe was born in Sea Bright, New Jersey, June 27, 1899, where his family had recently moved from Maryland.
Juan’s father, an engineer, became a player on Wall Street heading up the investment banking firm of Trippe & Co. When his father died suddenly the family learned that Mr. Trippe did not have the fortune they believed he had. He left behind an estate of $30,000.00 and a company on the verge of collapse. As a consequence, Juan, a Yale graduate, was confronted with the fact that he would not exactly be leading a life of leisure and had to go to work.
After a brief work experience on Wall Street Trippe decided to do something with his first love which was aviation. He had learned to fly during World War One, but never saw combat, and wanted to turn this passion into a business.
Trippe’s first venture into the airline business was when he teamed up with a partner, and purchased some surplus Navy seaplanes at approximately $500.00 each. The concept was to launch a charter service between New York and the Long Island Resorts catering to the rich and famous. However, their success was limited. This was just the beginning for this aviation visionary who continued forward with a string of new companies and ultimately merged one of his aviation companies, Aviation Corporation of America, with Pan American Airways, which was controlled and managed by World War One aces Eddie Rickenbacker and Hap Arnold. Trippe became president of the combined operations. It should be noted that Pan American Airways was incorporated in March of 1927 and the airline flew its first flight in October of 1927 in an airplane provided by Trippe. The airplane was a Fairchild FC-2 floatplane, and the first flight was Key West to Havana delivering mail. Regular scheduled service began later that same month.
The relationship between the partners at Pan American Airways soon became an issue, and Eddie Rickenbacker ultimately ended up at the helm of Eastern Airlines, which was owned by General Motors. Hap Arnold continued his career in the Army Air Corps and served as the commander of the Army Air Forces in World War II. He was the only air commander ever to attain the rank of five-star general.
Trippe ran Pan American Airways, later called just Pan Am, until 1968 when he retired and turned the reigns over to Harold Gray, his long time second in command. Juan Trippe died on April 3, 1981 at the age of 81. His vision and accomplishments will never be duplicated…or will they? I think it has been said that the future is the past returning through a different gate but I am not sure where I read that.
Next week we will move forward with our series, and will focus on the Florida operations for Pan Am and include some pictures of the first clippers. However, I would like to note that when Trippe introduced the Clipper service he sought to evoke the images of the 19th century clipper ships, and in so doing he adopted the terminology Captain and First Office for his pilots. Now you know the rest of the story as Paul Harvey would say. As always, take some time to look back, connect with your past and remember as an aviator you are a “Gatekeeper of the Third Dimension.”
February 5, 2010