AN AMERICAN SAGA: Juan Trippe and his Pan Am Empire
by Robert Daley
Juan Trippe, the first and last aviation tycoon in history, learned to fly in the rickety machines of World War I, when the sky appealed only to daredevils, and his life expectancy could have been counted, probably, in days. He was as star struck as any of the other young aviators of the day, but he was also a Yale educated banker’s son who believed the world was crying out for air travel but didn’t yet know it, and he thought he saw a way to turn this risky game into a business. At 25 he began to found airlines, all of which failed, but in 1927 he took over floundering Pan American, which had only one route, 90 miles from Key West to Havana. Within eight years at great risk and against fantastic odds Pan Am had regularly scheduled service across the Pacific, and after that Trippe thrust his tentacles into all of Latin America, into Europe, Africa, Australia, China. He was a nerveless, sometimes vicious competitor who bought up or drove out of business anyone who got in his way—President Roosevelt once referred to him as a “Yale educated gangster”---until he had built Pan Am into the by far the mightiest airline that had existed up to that time.
- Robert Daley, June 2011
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