Pan Am was led for 50 years by Juan Trippe. Trippe, a former Navy pilot got backing from such people as Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney and William H. Rockefeller to start Aviation Corporation of America in 1927. He planned to offer air service to the Caribbean.
He had 2 competitors - Atlantic, Gulf and Caribbean Airways and Pan American Airways. Since Aviation Corp and AGCA had what Pan Am wanted and needed, they forced Pan Am to accept them as partners. The offices for this company were in a little house in Key West. On October 19, 1927, Pan Am flew its first mail flight from Key West to Havana. A little more than a week later, regular service began.
At the time, the US Government was very intent on having mail service from North to South America. The passing of the Foreign Air Mail Act of 1928 and all these new mail routes encouraged the original three companies to merge. The new Aviation Corporation of the Americas had Pan American Airways as its main subsidiary.
By hook and crook, Juan Trippe made sure he had no competitors. By 1930, Pan Am was the most important airline in Latin America.
But the thing that Pan Am is most known for is its Transatlantic Clipper Ship service. Their flagship, the Yankee Clipper, was a B-314 built by Boeing. This was the first in a long line of planes from the collaboration of Pan Am & Boeing, which included the well-known 727.
By the late 1930’s Pan Am had 25 B-314 air boats crossing the Pacific and Atlantic and was known as the most elegant and reliable airline. Trippe hired none other than Charles Lindbergh as his technical advisor, a position Lindbergh held for 45 years.
Pan Am was one of the first airlines to embrace jet transportation.
Unfortunately, Pam Am began a downhill slide in the 1970’s that ended with bankruptcy in 1991. But it left a legacy as the standard setter for service during the heyday of commercial aviation.
In 1991, actress Kelly McGillis bought the old Pan Am office and turned it into Kelly’s Caribbean Bar & Grill, home of the Southernmost Brewery, the only brewery in the Florida Keys. The food and ambiance is excellent and the restaurant contains a unique collection of uniforms and other memorabilia from the era when flying was a true adventure.