10 July, 2008

Juan Trippe


Juan Terry Trippe was a U.S. airline entrepreneur and pioneer, and the founder of Pan American World Airways. Born in Sea Bright, New Jersey, Trippe graduated from The Hill School in 1917, and then Yale in 1921. He began working on Wall Street, but soon became bored. After receiving an inheritance he started working with New York Airways, an air-taxi service for the rich and powerful.

At Yale, Trippe was a member of St. Anthony Hall. Along with some wealthy friends from Yale, Trippe invested in an airline named Colonial Air Transport. Interested in operating to the Caribbean, Trippe created the Aviation Company of the Americas. Based in Florida, the company would evolve into the fledgling Pan Am, then known as Pan American Airways. Pan Am's first flight took off on October 28, 1927, from Key West to Havana. Later, Trippe bought the China National Aviation Corporation to provide domestic air service in the Republic of China, and became a partner in Panagra. In the 1930s Pan Am became the first airline to cross the Pacific with the famous Clipper flying boats.

Trippe served as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the airline for all but about two years between the founding of the company and the Second World War. "Sonny" Whitney, a stockholder, managed to seize this position. He later regretted his action and allowed Trippe to retake it. Trippe failed to pardon Whitney for a long time. At one point, he even agreed to meet Whitney for lunch for reconciliation but changed his mind and returned shortly after departing from his office in the Chrysler Building.

Trippe's airline continued to expand worldwide throughout World War II. Pan Am was one of the few airlines that was largely unaffected by the war.

Trippe is responsible for several innovations in the airline world. A firm believer in the idea of air travel for all, Trippe is credited as the father of the tourist class in the airline industry. Trippe quickly recognized the opportunities presented by jet aircraft and ordered several Boeing 707 and McDonnell Douglas DC-8 airplanes. Pan Am's first jet flight was operated in October, 1958 by a 707 out of Idle Wild International Airport (now JFK) to Paris. The new jets allowed Pan Am to introduce lower fares and fly more passengers.

In 1965, Trippe asked his friend Bill Allen at Boeing to produce an airplane much larger than the 707. The result was the 747, and Pan Am was the first customer.

Originally, Trippe believed the 747 would ultimately be destined to haul cargo only and would be replaced by faster, supersonic aircraft which were then being developed. The supersonic airliners failed to materialize with the exception of the Concorde and Tupolev Tu-144 and the 747 became the iconic image of international travel.

Trippe gave up presidency of the airline in 1968. He continued to attend meetings of the Board of Directors and maintained an office in the company's Park Avenue office building. His first replacement, Harold Gray, retired soon after becoming Chairman due to cancer. Najeeb Halaby, the next Chairman, was seen as overly aggressive and impulsive by many of the directors and was subsequently fired. General William Seawell was the next Chairman in line and Trippe died during his tenure in Los Angeles in 1981 and is buried in the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

In 1985, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom by United States President Ronald Reagan.

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