Pan American Airways, as it was then named, began operations on October 28, 1927, with the first scheduled international flight by a United States airline. A small wood and fabric Fokker trimotor airplane loaded with mail sacks took off from a dirt runway in Key West, Florida, and landed one hour and ten minutes later in Havana, Cuba, a distance of ninety miles.
Charles Lindgergh and Juan T. Trippe Juan Terry Trippe, Pan Am's twenty-eight year old founder began operations with two airplanes, twenty-four employees and the goal "to provide mass air transportation for the average man at rates he can afford to pay."
Within three months the airline transported passengers on a daily schedule between Florida and Cuba. Initial success encouraged the acquisition of new aircraft, employees and routes --- to the Caribbean islands, Mexico, Central America and South America. In 1928 Trippe engaged the services of Charles A. Lindbergh, and the famed American aviator served as a technical advisor to Pan Am for forty-five years.
Lindbergh was instrumental in determining the transatlantic routes, and letters between Trippe and Lindbergh provide a unique perspective on the development of the aviation industry.
Pan Am proved to be an airline of many "firsts." On November 22, 1935, the "China Clipper," a Martin flying boat built to Pan Am's specifications departed from San Francisco and began a six day journey to Manila, completing the first transpacific flight. In May, 1939, the "Yankee Clipper," a Boeing B-314 also designed and built for Pan Am, completed a New York - Lisbon - Marseille route that inaugurated transatlantic flights. In 1942 Pan Am also completed the first successful around the world flight.
World War II saw Pan Am devote resources and personnel to the war effort. The airline flew more than ninety million miles for the United States Government. Pan Am carried military personnel and cargo; ferried bombers and aircraft; and built fifty airports in fifteen countries. The airline also trained thousands of military pilots, navigators and mechanics.
The post-war period saw many technical improvements in aviation, including the introduction of the Douglas DC-4, the Lockheed Constellation, the Boeing Stratocruiser and the Douglas DC-6 and DC-7. By 1947, after only two decades of operation, Pan Am employed 19,000 people in sixty-two countries. In 1950, shortly after beginning around the world service and developing the concept of "economy class" passenger service, Pan American Airways changed its name to Pan American World Airways, Inc.
United States air passenger service entered the jet age on October 26, 1958, as the "Clipper America," a Boeing 707 flew from New York to Paris with 111 passengers. Overnight, flying times were reduced by one-half, and the world became a much smaller place. Pan Am continued to influence commercial aviation service, and in 1970 the airline carried 11 million passengers almost twenty billion miles. Pan Am was the first airline to order the Boeing 747, a plane that flew more passengers faster, higher and farther than its predecessors.
In 1976, Pan Am introduced the Boeing 747 SP, a special performance aircraft that extended the range of commercial flights and allowed Pan Am to inaugurate non-stop flights to the far corners of the world. On May 1, 1976, Pan Am's "Liberty Clipper," one of the new 747 SP's, left New York and travelled east on a record breaking around the world trip. With ninety-six passengers and only two re-fueling stops -- at Delhi and Tokyo -- the flight arrived back in New York only forty-six hours from departure, besting the previous mark by some fifteen hours. The airline celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 1977 with anther first, this time around the flight covered 26,300 miles in a little more than fifty-four hours.
In the late 1970s Pan Am began exploring domestic flights. In January, 1980, Pan Am merged with National Airlines thus airline industry, the proliferation of airlines around the world and the fragile global economy led Pan Am to attempt a number of organizational restructures. Following a series of unsuccessful initiatives designed to improve the economic performance of the company, Pan American World Airways, Inc., ceased operations in 1991.