Juan Terry Trippe is rightly recognized as one of the true shapers of the Twentieth Century.
The enterprise he created and led through four decades of astounding progress became synonymous with the rapid advance of commercial aviation. Under his leadership, along with those he worked with, Pan American World Airways set the pace again and again for the world’s air transport industry. Pan Am led the way, not just with regard to the evolving technology, but also in terms of bringing the benefits of aviation to ever greater numbers of people all around the world.
A prevalent view of this ever-advancing curve of passenger travel is that it was Pan Am’s – that is Juan Trippe’s – obsession with driving down the cost of seat-miles. It’s true that bigger planes flying faster and farther, and completing more flights enhanced profitability.
But if you read what Trippe said himself over the course of his career, it’s possible to discern a concurrent and evolving motivation at work too.
J.T. Trippe, as he liked to have himself referred to, was not only the hard-nosed, risk-taking, entrepreneurial captain of industry, reflecting a popular meme in the “American Century.” He was something of a dreamer too. Those dreams had as much to do with Pan Am’s “envelope pushing” as Trippe’s ambition for air transport dominance.
Juan Trippe was both a product and a progenitor of what became known as the “Air Age,” a term he often used himself. Growing up in the first generation that could truly envision and experience the large-scale practical use of powered flight, he was enthralled by its possibilities. He saw those in terms of business potential, obviously.
But early on in his career, like a few contemporaries such as General Billy Mitchell, he also saw what air power would mean for the American nation. By mid-century his perspective had grown into a world-view that morphed into a truly global vision. Juan Trippe had come to see the benefits of air transport in terms that encompassed all humankind.
We think it’s worth marking Juan Trippe’s birthday, June 27th, with the recognition of how his overarching vision of aviation’s potential has enriched all our lives. In a sense, it’s his gift to us that keeps on giving.
Excerpts from Juan Trippe's speeches:
Confirmations of his expanding vision for aviation
February 23, 1932
We are confident that a close study of the present trend will lead to the realization of truly tremendous progress in the crossing of ocean barriers and the linking the world continents closer by air transportation within the next few years.
December 3, 1937
The people of the United States know that the international air transport service of Pan American Airways is IMPORTANT to our national defense. They appreciate its institutional value in foreign lands as a concrete example of American technique and organizational ability, for they know that this American air service, as compared to its foreign flag rivals, is today recognized abroad as the acknowledged leader in technical efficiency and commercial utility. But they are apt to overlook Pan American's principal value to the United States: its effectiveness in the building up of our foreign trade.
January 11, 1937
Perhaps the most encouraging result of the Pacific Service has been the closer relations it is making possible between the nations on both sides of the Pacific Ocean which today are as close to one another as cities in Canada and the United States - a condition which holds only the most promising auguries for the future.
September 28, 1939
In these 20 years transport aviation has become a tremendous force in the international life of our nation. So rapidly that we have yet to realize it fully, it has reduced the world to one-fifth its former travel size. Its mission has everywhere been one of peace, friendship, of aid in developing mutual benefit of trade and commerce. It has within a single decade swept away forever the age-old barriers of time and distance between this nation and its neighboring republics and the lands beyond the seas. It has already proved itself a vital force for the protection and extension of this nation's world commerce. Equally important it has proved itself the means by which those friendly nations are being woven into a great community of good neighbors.
May 19, 1943
As we carry men, mail and merchandise - ideas and ideals - science, medicine, culture and the arts - we will again be carrying cargoes of good-will. I hope we will never carry cargoes of imperialism and hate. We must see that they are not sent. We must remember that air transport is the vehicle, not the cargo. It can serve good ends or bad.
Let me suggest for your consideration some ways in which air transport can be on the right side and do the right thing - how it can be made more completely the instrument of the common man.
The first way is simple. It is to assume our natural responsibility as a private enterprise and to offer the most value to the most people. That isn't as obvious as it sounds. Because air transport does have the choice - the very clear choice- of becoming a luxury service to carry the well-to-do at high prices - or to carry the average man at what he can afford to pay. Pan American has chosen the latter course.
1963 Dedication of the Pan Am Building
The name has gradually changed on the tongues of the millions of human beings who have been speaking it all over the world. Use has worn it away to just two short syllables -- Pan Am -- but those short syllables now speak for human unity throughout the free world.
October 19, 1964
We must preach the gospel, 'Go abroad set up new businesses, bring in the other fellow as a local partner, be it a shoe factory, a supermarket, a sales outlet, an assembly plant, a hotel, or a local airline.' We know know that whatever community, whatever nation we may belong to as citizens, we are residents of this earth: that we are bound together and will be increasingly bound together, as we make greater and better use of the air, in a common fate: the fate of this small planet which to all of us is home. Because of aviation, men are beginning to think of themselves and of their earth in different terms -- terms which make war -- ultimate war -- less and less acceptable.
Related article: Juan Trippe: Links