Before it billed itself as the “World’s Most Experienced Airline,” Pan Am started off a little more humbly — but already making the bold moves that would make the airline so legendary it became synonymous with international travel in the 20th Century.
Though you won’t find his name in either of these articles, the driving force behind Pan-American Airways (as it was known then) obtaining the airmail contract to Latin America that led to it becoming the sole American passenger service to the region was the legendary Juan Trippe. His determination, business sense and lack of fear in obtaining the airmail contract before Pan Am owned even a single plane was the same that would lead to his spearheading the Jet Age with the 707, then later ushering in the Jumbo Jet era with the introduction of the 747.
Stagnation in leadership following Trippe’s retirement combined with increasing competition in the post-deregulation era would eventually doom Pan Am, which closed its doors for good on December 4, 1991. However, these articles allow us to look back at the humble beginnings of one of the world’s most legendary airlines — still regarded so more than 20 years after it ceased operation. – AJW
America to Panama air mail and passenger service on January 1st
July 28, 1928 – Jamaica Gleaner (Kingston, Jamaica)
Will be largest system of international airways in the world
Call at Honduras
Time of journey two and a half days instead of five by steamer
New York, July 22 — Thirty-one giant airplanes will start flying in daily service, carrying mail, passengers and express, on January 1, 1929, between Key West, Fla., and the Panama Canal Zone.
The route is 1640 miles long, the largest system of international airways in the world, according to the officials of the Pan-American Airways, Inc, which has been awarded the United States Government air-mail contract for the route.
Stops on the route are: Key West; Havana; Merida, Mex; Belize; British Honduras; Puerto Barrios, Guatemala; Tegucigalpa, Honduras; Managua, Nicaragua; San Jose, Costa Rica; David, Panama; and Cristobal, Canal Zone.
Two and a half days after a passenger steps into a plane at Key West he will be in the Canal Zone, after twenty-three hours of actual flying. Overnight stops are scheduled at Merida and Managua. This time of two and a half days contrasts with five days now required by boat from Galveston, Tex, to Cristobal.
Whole week service
Officials declare the route will be flown seven days a week. The cost of the line of thirty-one huge planes will be approximately £500,000. Each of the planes will be fitted with three motors.
Since late last year the Pan-American Airways Inc, has maintained air-mail, passenger and express service between Key West and Havana and Santiago de Cuba, and on September 1, it is anticipated, an extension will be dedicated between Miami and Key West.
Three giant Wright-motored Fokker monoplanes and two Sikorsky amphibians, one powered with a Wright engine and the other with a Pratt and Whitney Wasp motor, are now in service. Orders have been placed for six 14-passenger super-Fokker F-10 Wasp-motored planes, three to be delivered in October and three in November. In addition, negotiations are under way, according to official announcement, with three aircraft manufacturers for a score of planes capable each of carrying at least twenty passengers. Contracts have been let for these planes but the details of their construction are not yet ready for publication.
Extension of service
Eventual extension of the service to South America is mirrored in the fact that the company in obtaining the government airmail contract also reserved the right to extend its initial route to include Guatemala City, and San Salvador and to prolong it around the northern coast of South America to British and Dutch Guiana.
Coincident with the announcement of the new international airways system, the backers of the project were revealed to be a group of powerful and wealthy Wall Street capitalists, who banded together to make permanent the “Lindbergh trail” through Central America. Pan-American Airways, Inc, is a subsidiary of the Aviation Corporation of the Americas, which is composed of men affiliated with leading aviation groups, including National Air Transport, Wright Aeronautical Corporation, Ford Motor Company, Fairchild Aviation Corporation, Stout Air Services, Colonial Air Transport, Transcontinental Air Transport, Keystone Aircraft Company, and Aircraft Development Co.
America’s first international air passenger route — to West Indies
Lake County Times (Hammond, Indiana) – January 15, 1929
Fast trains of Atlantic Coast Line and Florida East Coast Railway connect at Miami with giant planes of Pan-American Airways for Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Porto Rico.
Miami — The joint train to plane service of the Florida East Coast Railway, the Atlantic Coast Line and the Pan-American Airways, Inc, brings Havana, Cuba within 46 hours of New York City, and effects a comparable saving of time between Havana and other cities of the United States.
It is the first international train and plane route in America. Passengers from any point in the United States can be routed to Miami by rail, thence by plane over the Pan-American Airways system direct to the Cuban capital and through Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic to San Juan, Porto Rico.
The first aviation passenger station to be built in the United States is that of the Pan-American Airways, at Miami. The station possesses all the facilities of any modern depot, and in addition, customs offices.
As an example in time saving: passengers board the “Palmetto Limited” of the Atlantic Coast line at 7:10 in the evening, arriving in Miami, via the Florida East Coast Railway from Jacksonville at 7:15 the second morning 1 1/2 days out from New York. They are transported direct to the Pan-American Airways’ airdrome, where they have breakfast, and in 45 minutes they are winging their way to Havana, 261 miles away, arriving in 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Through passengers to the West Indies make similar rail connections from New York City, leaving Miami by plane at nine o’clock in the morning, arriving at Santiago de Cuba at 5:00 in the afternoon, only 46 hours from New York, after stops at Havana, Santa Clara and Camaguey.
Remaining in Santiago over night, our air tourists arrive in San Juan, Porto Rico, at 5:15 in the afternoon, with a total flying time from Cuba of only six hours, and with the privilege of stop-overs at Port au Prince, Haiti, and South Domingo City, in the Dominican Republic.
The new de luxe Pan-American airliners, among the largest transports now in service in America, have accommodations for 12 and 14 passengers, and incorporate running water, toilet facilities, and buffet service. These gigantic planes maintain a speed of from 125 to 150 miles an hour.
It is but natural that the United States should seek closer contact with her Latin American neighbors. Florida, because of its geographical position, is the natural land approach to the West Indies and Central America.
This fact was long ago realized by the Florida East Coast Railway which in 1912 at a cost of fifty million dollars, built its Overseas Railway between the Florida mainland and Key West, bringing railway service within 90 miles of Havana.
It was the most colossal attempt ever made to connect with Latin American trade. The railroad bridges vast gaps of ocean, in places 45 feet in depth, rising on gigantic concrete piers in its spectacular march over the sea. As a consequence freight trains are run into and out of Havana to and from all parts of the United States without ever unloading.
Enthusiasts for commercial aviation believe that the fact the thoroughly modern and progressive Florida East Coast Railway is cooperating with the Atlantic Coast Line and Pan-American Airways in the new train and plane passenger service to the West Indies is the strongest possible testimony as to the value of the airplane as a rail feeder in international trade.