The growth of commercial air transportation and the number of passengers flying today can be laid at the feet of one of the great aviation pioneers, Juan Trippe, who began a crusade to create an air network that would link America to the world. The Yale graduate was absorbed by flight and airplanes. He established Pan American World Airways with a fleet of flying boats linking the U.S. Latin and South America, Asia and Europe. International travel in the 1940s was limited to the rich. Trippe had a different vision. He wanted to make international travel affordable for ordinary folk and introduced a new class of service--tourist class--on the New York-London route with a round-trip fare of $275, half the price set by the International Air Transport Association. Not only was IATA unhappy, Britain quickly shut its airports to Pan Am, forcing it to land at Shannon, Ireland. Trippe ultimately prevailed in bringing air travel to a large segment of the population. The story of Trippe, told by award-winning author Daniel Alef, is a significant chapter in American aviation. Howard Hughes and TWA were his nemesis; Lindbergh a close friend. And Trippe also gave us the 707, ushering in the jet age, and later the 747. [12,299-word Titans of Fortune profile with a timeline and more than 35 video links].
On September 30, 1965, Bill Allen, president of Boeing, met Juan Terry Trippe, president of Pan American World Airways, at Pan Am’s New York headquarters at the foot of Park Avenue. The view from Trippe’s office on the fifty-ninth floor overlooking Park Avenue and Manhattan was inspiring; the news Allen had just received was not—Lockheed had beaten Boeing for the contract to build the massive C-5 military transport.
Undoubtedly, Allen was distressed by the news. Boeing had spent millions of dollars out of pocket and had hired thirteen hundred extra employees in a bid to win the $2 billion contract for a new military transport from the U.S. Air Force, a craft capable of carrying up to six hundred troops or heavy military hardware. Lockheed’s lower bid won the day despite the opinion of several Air Force generals who deemed Boeing’s proposed aircraft superior.
Trippe had been in contact with Courtland Gross, CEO of Lockheed to see if Lockheed would be interested in developing a civilian version of the C-5, a ship capable of carrying at least four hundred passengers arrayed ten across. Gross declined. The C-5 made his plate full and would use up all his resources. Douglas Aircraft offered to develop a stretch version of their DC-8, but Trippe was not interested in a modification of an existing craft. He wanted something new, something bigger and more exciting; it was his signature mode for staying ahead of competition.
So with Allen in his office, Trippe seized the moment and suggested a new project to Boeing, a jetliner “two-and-a-half times as large as the 707.”
“If you build it,” Trippe said, “I'll buy it.”
Allen quickly replied, “If you buy it, I'll build it.”
Less than three months later, on December 22, 1965, the two men had hashed out an agreement and Pan Am signed a letter of intent to purchase twenty-five jumbo jets for $550 million, giving birth to the Boeing 747. Getting delivery of the new 747s ahead of any other . . . .