Airline Expansion and Innovation (1927 - 1941)

Ships of the Air

Pan Am's "Clippers" were named in tribute to the clipper ships of the China tea trade in the 1850s, the fastest sailing ships of their day.


picture of a travel agent
Travel Agent

Pan American Airways

Pan Am Bag Label
National Air and Space Museum Archives

Led by Juan T. Trippe, Pan American became the dominant U.S. international airline. Its famous "Clippers" flew to Latin America and crossed the Atlantic and Pacific.

Founded in 1927, Pan American opened regular commercial service throughout Latin America using both flying boats and landplanes. In 1935, Juan T. Trippe introduced the first regularly scheduled transpacific service with the famous Martin M-130 China Clipper. He opened regular transatlantic service in 1939 with the Boeing 314 flying boat.

Pan American was barred from domestic routes in return for exclusive rights to international routes. Its overseas monopoly lasted until World War II, and its domestic restriction until 1978.

Pan Am Sikorsky S-40 with passengers boarding
National Air and Space Museum Archives

With 38 seats and a crew of six, the Sikorsky S-40 flying boat was the largest U.S. airliner of its time. Only three were built, but they left a lasting mark as the first "Clippers," a name affixed to all subsequent Pan American aircraft.

Pan Am Sikorsky S-42
National Air and Space Museum Archives

The revolutionary new 32-seat Sikorsky S-42 flying boat entered service in 1934. It could fly twice as many people twice as far as the Douglas DC-2.

Pan Am Boeing 314
National Air and Space Museum Archives

The Boeing 314 Atlantic Clipper. In May 1939, exactly 12 years after Lindbergh's solo transatlantic flight, its sister ship, the Yankee Clipper, opened the first regularly scheduled transatlantic air mail service, between Port Washington, New York, and Marseilles, France. A month later the Dixie Clipper began the first passenger service along that route.
Lockheed Martin

Lindbergh Trippe Airplane
National Air and Space Museum Archives

Juan T. Trippe

For over 40 years, Pan American was the embodiment of its dynamic founder, Juan T. Trippe. During the 1930s, he inspired the famous "Clipper" series of Sikorsky, Martin, and Boeing flying boats. In the 1940s, he bought the pressurized Boeing 307 and Lockheed Constellation and opened the first around-the-world service.

In the 1950s, Trippe introduced the jetliner to America, sponsoring both the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8. In the 1970s, he again set the pace with the wide-body Boeing 747. Pan Am struggled after Trippe retired and the industry was deregulated. It ceased operations in 1991.

Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp
Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum

Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp

Designed in 1930, the 14-cylinder, 800-horsepower Twin Wasp engine was first used on the Martin M-130 China Clipper, which opened transpacific commercial service in 1935 for Pan American Airways. United Air Lines installed 1,000-horsepower Twin Wasps in its Douglas DC-3As, which began service in 1937.

The engine displayed here is the 1,200-horsepower R-1830-92 military version, the most widely used Twin Wasp in the DC-3 series. More than 173,000 Twin Wasp engines were manufactured, more than any other large aircraft engine.
Gift of Grumman Aerospace

Type: Air-cooled, twin-row radial
Cylinders: 14
Displacement: 31.6 L (1,830 cu in)
Power: 1,200 hp at 2,700 rpm
Weight: 665 kg (1,467 lb)
Manufacturer: Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Co., Hartford, Conn., 1942