Hall of Fame


Juan Trippe (1899-1981)

Trippe’s vi­sion­ary move was to per­suade Boe­ing to build the Boe­ing 747 “Jumbo Jet”, a new gen­er­a­tion wide-body air­liner that was much larger than the Boe­ing 707

Begin­ning in the early 1930s, Pan Amer­i­can World Air­ways, bet­ter known as Pan Am, dom­i­nated the in­ter­na­tional avi­a­tion scene for about four decades. “Amer­ica’s air­line to the world” was the first to fly across the Pa­cific and the Atlantic Oceans, the first to fea­ture Amer­i­can-built pas­sen­ger jets and the first to or­der the Boe­ing 747. It also in­tro­duced aroundthe-world air service in 1947 and pi­o­neered low-cost tourist seats in 1952 at a time when the en­tire in­dus­try was still of the “fly­ing is for the well-heeled” mind­set. And the man who was prac­ti­cally syn­ony­mous with Pan Am was Juan Trippe. Trippe started small, us­ing a hired Fairchild FC-2 sin­gle-en­gine float­plane on a lone 90-mile route be­tween Key West, Florida and Ha­vana, Cuba in 1927. He made use of ev­ery ad­vance in the de­sign and ca­pa­bil­ity of com­mer­cial air­craft and built his air­line prac­ti­cally sin­gle­handed. By the time he left Pan Am in 1968, it was a truly global car­rier ex­tend­ing over 80,000 miles and linking the United States (US) with 85 coun­tries.

Juan Terry Trippe was born in Sea Bright, New Jer­sey, on June 27, 1899. Although he was of Eu­ro­pean de­scent, he was com­monly mis­taken for a His­panic be­cause of his first name. He joined flight train­ing with the US Navy when Amer­ica en­tered World War I in 1917. How­ever, soon af­ter he com­pleted train­ing in June 1918, the War ended. But his brief fly­ing stint made him re­alise the enor­mous po­ten­tial of this new mode of travel. He man­aged to per­suade some of his wealthy friends to join or fi­nance him and formed the Avi­a­tion Cor­po­ra­tion of Amer­ica in June 1927, to of­fer air ser­vices into the Caribbean. He also man­aged to rope in Charles Lind­bergh for a na­tion­wide goodwill tour and later as pi­lot for sur­vey flights over new routes in South Amer­ica. Af­ter its mod­est launch on Oc­to­ber 28, 1927, the air­line that would later be known as Pan Am rapidly ex­panded. Its fleet of Boe­ing 314 Clip­per lon­grange fly­ing boats linked a large num­ber of des­ti­na­tions across both the Pa­cific and the Atlantic oceans. De­liv­er­ing mail and pas­sen­gers, the Clip­pers gained a well-de­served rep­u­ta­tion for de­pend­abil­ity, ex­cel­lence and el­e­gant travel. The US govern­ment also awarded Pan Am prac­ti­cally ev­ery for­eign air­mail route for which it bid, thanks to Trippe’s diplo­matic skills and his close as­so­ci­a­tion with Charles Lind­bergh.

Juan Trippe soon saw the folly and in­jus­tice of re­strict­ing air travel to the elite. He said, “The true ob­jec­tive is to bring to the life of the av­er­age man those things which were once the priv­i­lege of the for­tu­nate few,” and took it as a per­sonal mis­sion to bring avi­a­tion ser­vices within the means of the com­mon cit­i­zen ev­ery­where. When World War II ended, he in­tro­duced a “tourist class” from New York to London, cut­ting the round-trip fare by more than half to $275. But this put him on the wrong side of the In­ter­na­tional Air Trans­port As­so­ci­a­tion (IATA) and at­tracted fierce op­po­si­tion from the en­trenched car­ri­ers who saw noth­ing wrong in fix­ing fares and fix­ing them high. Trippe stuck to his guns and a few years later most air­lines be­gan to in­tro­duce tourist class on their planes.

Trippe was highly im­pressed when the first com­mer­cial jets ap­peared on the scene and placed a size­able or­der for Boe­ing 707 and Dou­glas DC-8 air­lin­ers. Pan Am’s first sched­uled jet service was on Oc­to­ber 26, 1958. Its Boe­ing 707 “Clip­per Amer­ica” linked New York and Paris, tak­ing half the time and carrying twice as many pas­sen­gers as the pro­peller­driven Boe­ing 377 Stra­tocruiser it re­placed. Pan Am was con­se­quently able to fly more pas­sen­gers and lower its fares. The jour­ney also be­came far more com­fort­able since the jet could fly at al­ti­tudes largely free of the stormy Atlantic weather.

An­other of Trippe’s vi­sion­ary moves was to per­suade Boe­ing to build the Boe­ing 747 “Jumbo Jet”, a new gen­er­a­tion wide-body air­liner that was much larger than the Boe­ing 707. Pan Am played a key role in in­flu­enc­ing the de­sign of the new air­liner and was its launch cus­tomer.

Juan Trippe made Pan Am one of the most in­flu­en­tial and im­por­tant Amer­i­can car­ri­ers ever. But his talents were not re­stricted to avi­a­tion. He was also one of the first to iden­tify the sym­bi­otic link be­tween the air­line and the ho­tel in­dus­try. Through Pan Am he set up and de­vel­oped the In­ter­Con­ti­nen­tal Group Ho­tel Com­pany which grew into a chain of 222 ho­tels world­wide by 1996. He left Pan Am in 1968 and the car­rier’s slide be­gan soon there­after due to over­ex­pan­sion of routes and too many Boe­ing 747s or­dered. The oil price shocks and con­se­quent eco­nomic re­ces­sion of the 1970s, didn’t help. Trippe died af­ter suf­fer­ing a stroke on April 3, 1981. The iconic air­line he started went into bank­ruptcy and ceased op­er­a­tions in De­cem­ber 1992.

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