Trippe, Juan "Terry"

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Trippe, Juan "Terry"

Pan American Airways


The cofounder of Pan American Airways, Juan "Terry" Trippe, was an aviation pioneer who was instrumental in the overall development of the commercial airline industry. When he was a young man, he recognized the potentials of commercial aviation before anyone else, and he turned his visions into reality. He guided Pan Am from its modest beginnings and turned it into one of the largest corporations in the world. As the leader of Pan Am, he established several significant "firsts." Pan Am was the first airline to fly across the Atlantic and Pacific, the first to order and fly American–made jets, and the first to order the Boeing 747 jumbo jet. By the time Trippe retired, Pan Am was flying to 85 nations in six continents. Above all, he brought the world into the jet age and made it possible for the masses to afford air travel.

Personal Life

Juan Trippe was born in Sea Bright, New Jersey on June 27, 1899, the son of Charles White Trippe, an investment banker, and Lucy Adeline Terry. He graduated from the Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. When he was growing up, Trippe chose to be called Terry, as if he felt the name sounded more appropriate for someone of his affluent background.

Trippe first became interested in aviation at the age of 10, when his father took him to see an air race involving the Wright Brothers. He entered Yale College in 1917, during World War I, but quit after his first year to join the U.S. Navy. He was commissioned a naval aviation ensign and learned to fly while in Florida. However, Trippe never experienced any air combat while overseas. Just as he was about to enter the war, it ended.

When he returned to Yale to complete his education, he started a flying club. He graduated from the school in 1922 with a Ph.D. and worked on Wall Street for two years. But aviation remained his primary passion, and when he learned that the navy was selling surplus planes, he bought seven and started an air charter service at Rockaway Beach, Long Island.

He cofounded Pan American Airways in 1927, and he would serve as the corporation's chairman and chief operating officer for 41 years. As chief operating officer, Trippe developed a global network of 80,000 air miles. He remained in control of Pan Am until he resigned in 1968. He remained honorary chairman and an active member of the board until 1975. He worked a full schedule until 1980, when he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. He died of complications resulting from the stroke in 1981.

Trippe married Elizabeth Stettinius on June 16, 1928. His wife was the daughter of a J. P. Morgan associate and sister of Edward Stettinius, who would later become secretary of state. They had four children.

Career Details

Trippe first entered the commercial airline business in 1923, when he formed Long Island Airways. He financed the business by selling stock to his rich Yale classmates and bought seven navy surplus Aeromarine 49–B float planes for $500 each. With these two–passenger planes, he flew customers to Atlantic City and to Honduras and Canada. As self–appointed president and general manager, Trippe involved himself in every part of running the business, including the bookkeeping, flight scheduling, and even carrying bags for passengers. The company folded in 1924. That same year, he formed Colonial Air Transport.

At this time a significant development occurred that would advance Trippe's career: The Kelly Act, or the Airmail Act, of 1925 helped foster the concept of commercial aviation by providing mail subsidies to private airlines for delivering mail in the United States and overseas. Actually, Trippe had pushed for the concept by convincing Congressman Clyde Kelly, chairman of the House Post Office Committee, of the benefits of having private contractors delivering airmail. When Kelly introduced the bill, it was passed. As a result, Trippe formed Eastern Air Transport (with the help of well–heeled friends Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, Percy Rockefeller, and William H. Vanderbilt). Then he merged it with Colonial Air Transport. The new company acquired the first U.S. airmail contract and serviced the New York–to–Boston air route.

At Colonial, Trippe became vice president and operations manager. However, in 1927 he had a falling–out with the Colonial directors, who were uncomfortable with Trippe's unorthodox business approach. When he resigned, he formed the Aviation Corporation of America with Whitney and John Hambleton. By this time, Trippe had secured exclusive landing rights in Cuba with an agreement he made with Cuban president Gerardo Machado. To take advantage of this agreement, Trippe merged the airline with two others and formed Pan American Airways, or Pan Am, as it would come to be called. The company made its first flight to Cuba in October of 1927. Trippe would remain with Pam Am for the rest of his career.

By 1930, Pan Am, under Trippe's guidance, had become the world's largest airline. The company purchased the New York, Rio, and Buenos Aires Line, and now its planes flew 20,000 air miles to 20 Latin American countries that were part of a U.S. Post Office contract route. The next year, Pan Am and Trippe achieved one of several "firsts" by becoming the first U.S. airline to buy seaplanes. These huge planes were able to land in harbors without needing a runway, and this advantage spurred more growth for Pan Am. For passengers' comfort, the planes were redesigned to include sleeper berths, promenade decks, and dining compartments. Accommodations included in–flight service.

In 1934 Trippe startled listeners when he claimed that his company would "conquer the Pacific." At the time, no one believed that was possible. There would be nowhere a plane could stop and refuel. Undaunted, Trippe went to the postmaster general and boldly proposed that if Pan Am could find a way to cross the Pacific, then the government would guarantee his company all airmail contracts to the Far East. The Roosevelt administration agreed, figuring that Pan Am would open the way for American businesses and military. To achieve his ends, Trippe sailed to Wake Island and built an airport. The enterprise cost millions, but in less than a year, the previously uninhabited island became a thriving seaport. It was a big gamble on Trippe's part, but it paid off. Settlement of the island now allowed Pan Am to cross the Pacific. In 1935 Pan Am launched its first scheduled transpacific service with the inaugural flight of the famous China Clipper, a Martin M–130 "flying boat." Flights traveled from San Francisco to the Philippine Islands. In 1939 Pan Am launched the first scheduled transatlantic service on its Yankee Clipper, with flights from Port Washington and New York to Lisbon and Marseilles.

During World War II, Pan Am became the contract carrier for the U. S. government, flying more than 90 million miles in 19,000 transoceanic crossings. This resulted in Trippe receiving the Medal of Merit in 1946. President Harry S. Truman cited Trippe's organizing capacity, management skills, and cooperation with representatives of the United States.

After World War II, Trippe introduced low–cost air travel on Pan Am's North Atlantic routes and inaugurated the two–class seating arrangement. At first, other companies in the industry opposed such a move. However, all airlines would eventually adopt the concept. Up to this point, transoceanic flight was a luxury enjoyed by the rich and famous. "Tourist Class" seating allowed such a trip to become a reality for the masses. In 1947 Trippe introduced another first when Pan Am began offering around–the–world flights. The company continued to grow, and in 1949 it became Pan American World Airways when the holding and operating companies merged.

In 1955 Trippe brought in the "jet age" when he ordered the first commercial jet planes, purchasing 45 for $269 million. At the time, airline manufacturers weren't interested in building passenger jets, because they felt jet airliners used too much fuel to be cost effective. Trippe disagreed and convinced Boeing and Douglas to enter the jet–building business. In 1958 Pan Am first operated transatlantic service with the Boeing 707 with a flight from New York to Paris.

For Trippe, the 1930s and 1940s were years of risk–taking, innovation, and growth. The 1950s were a boom time for Pan Am. However, the 1960s started a period of decline for the organization. Enormous expenditures for equipment began taking a toll, and competition from international companies began hurting business. Foreign airlines were, for the most part, government–owned and, therefore, weren't as concerned with profit.

Trippe finally retired from Pan Am on May 7, 1968, after 41 years as chief operating officer. He remained an active board member, however, until 1975. Before retiring completely, Trippe took one last gamble in the early 1970s, this time with the Boeing 747. In another first for the company, Pan Am was the first to order the enormous aircraft, which made its inaugural flight from New York to London in 1970. Trippe felt such a large plane would alleviate air traffic problems at crowded airports. By the 1960s air travel had become so popular that airports were having a hard time handling all of the traffic created by the large number of smaller jet planes. But it proved to be a costly move, and the jumbo jet would play a big part in the company's eventual collapse. Trippe bought too many 747s at a time when the airline industry was reeling from the effects of an Arab oil embargo that increased jet fuel prices. Also, the country was suffering a major recession that hurt the airline industry. Pan Am itself suffered a period of ineffective management.

The 1980s were a particularly hard time for the company. By 1980 Pan Am was forced to start selling its assets. The next year, Trippe passed away. By the end of the decade, Pan Am had lost more than $3 billion dollars. Pan Am finally went out of business on December 4, 1991, a decade after Trippe had passed away.

Chronology: Juan "Terry" Trippe

1899: Born.

1922: Graduated from Yale.

1923: Formed his first airline company.

1927: Cofounded Pan American.

1935: Pan Am launched first transpacific flight.

1946: Received Medal of Honor.

1955: Purchased first commercial jet planes.

1968: Resigned from Pan American.

1980: Suffered massive cerebral hemorrhage.

1981: Died.

Social and Economic Impact

Trippe has often been referred to as the father of the modern airline industry. This hardly seems an exaggeration. Indeed, he was the man who made commercial long–distance air travel a reality. In doing so, he impacted not just an industry but the entire world. He was a true pioneer with a bold vision. He realized, at an early age, that travel provided the means to connect nations.

He not only opened up the world by creating new air routes, he revolutionized the concept of commercial aviation. He saw that the future in the industry was in tourist class travel, and he made it possible for everyone, not just the rich, to enjoy airline travel.

He reputedly possessed incredible powers of persuasion, and he used this talent to bring the rest of the airline industry along with him. He also possessed entrepreneurial instincts that allowed him to take full advantage of every opportunity that came his way. Trippe helped launch Pan Am in 1927 and, through a combination of risk–taking and resourcefulness, turned the company into an undisputed industry leader. Before its decline, Pan Am was one of the largest and best–known global corporations. (Its logo was prominently displayed in a major motion picture, 2001: A Space Odyssey.) The Pan Am building became one of the most famous structures in New York City. During its glory years, Pan Am had more international destinations than any other airline, flying to 113 cities in 81 countries.

Trippe's achievements have been recognized around the world. He was said to have been decorated by more foreign governments than any other U.S. citizen. In his own country, he received many honorary degrees, and he was a member of the boards of Visitors of Harvard Business School and Johns Hopkins University. He was a member of the corporate boards of the Chrysler Corporation and the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. Air trophies he received included the Robert Collier Trophy (1947), the Harmon Aviation Trophy (1937), and the Frye Airline Performance Trophy (1954).

Sources of Information


Branson, Richard. "Juan Trippe: Pilot of the Jet Age."Time 100: Builders and Titans. 1998. Available from

Capsule Biographies. "Juan Trippe,"Aerofiles. 2001. Available from

"Juan Trippe."Aviation Posters. 2000. Available from

"Juan Trippe."PBS—Chasing the Sun, 2001. Available from

Marcus, J., and G. Voss. "Air Apparent."Boston Magazine. 2000. Available from