Baltimore's Pan Am Links

December 08, 1991

The death of Pan Am Corp. ends an often-glorious 64-year history of an airline which for decades was regarded as this country's flagship carrier.

The early days of Pan American were a series of pioneering feats in commercial aviation under the firm's visionary founder, Juan T. Trippe. In 1927, the airline inaugurated the first scheduled international flight -- a mail run between Key West, Fla., and Havana. After becoming the first U.S. airline to develop four-engine flying boats, Pan Am launched the first scheduled trans-Pacific service in 1935. The first scheduled trans-Atlantic service followed four years later.

During that time period, Pan American and Baltimore City shared wild dreams. Both the company and the city realized aviation was revolutionizing the world and wanted to cash in on it.

In 1936, Pan Am designated Baltimore's Harbor Field as the hub of its trans-Atlantic seaplane operations. "Baltimore will face a golden opportunity of becoming a 'world airport'," predicted Glenn L. Martin, whose company in Middle River was building the famous Clipper aircraft. Indeed, the Pan Am announcement triggered interest as both TWA and United started using Baltimore as a hub. Even the German Zeppelin company was thinking of flying dirigibles out of here.

It is intriguing to fantasize what might have happened if World War II had not interrupted these plans. The war, of course, made seaplanes obsolete, leaving Baltimore City with a costly white elephant of a seaplane port (which was later turned into the Dundalk Marine Terminal). Pan Am got out of the seaplane business in 1947, the same year it inaugurated round-the-world service.

After the war, Pan Am was still at the cutting edge of aviation history. In 1958, it became the first U.S. airline to fly a commercial jetliner. But after Mr. Trippe retired 10 years later, the company never was the same. And when the U.S. airline industry was deregulated in 1978, rivals saw Pan Am as a declining giant that could be toppled.

The early Pan Am history is filled with the names of Marylanders connected with the airline and the old Glenn L. Martin Co. Clarence H. "Dutch" Schildhauer surveyed the carrier's international air lanes around the world; Guy Lee Bryan was the chief designer of the famed China Clipper; John A. Hambleton, a World War I flying ace, was among the first investors of Pan Am and J. Fife Symington Jr. headed the airline's traffic department in 1937, when its boats were flying from Baltimore to Bermuda.

What a group of flying men! What a history!

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