June 28th marks the 81st anniversary of the first regular trans-Atlantic passenger service via Pan Am’s Boeing 314 ‘Dixie Clipper’. The aircraft left Port Washington, New York with 22 passengers on the southern route to Horta, Lisbon, and Marseilles.
In 1939, the cost of the trip was US$375 for a one-way ticket or US$675 for a round trip. Southern Railway executive William J. Eck received a silver cigarette case for being the first paying passenger on the 20:50 minute route.
Also, among the passengers were famous “first flighter” Clara Adams, who was on the first leg of a record-breaking, round-the-world flight; United States Lines president John M. Franklin; and Texaco chairman Torkild Rieber, who would be later ousted over his close business relations with Nazi Germany.
This flight began the era of the heavier-than-air trans-Atlantic passenger service. Later, on July 8, the Yankee Clipper would launch Pan Am service across the Atlantic on the northern route, carrying 17 passengers to England.
The aircraft flew the southern route across the Atlantic, landing in Lisbon the next afternoon after a flight of approximately 27 hours (which included a stop at Horta in the Azores), and then flew to its final destination in Marseilles, France the next day.
The Boeing 314 Clipper was an American long-range flying boat produced by Boeing from 1938 to 1941. The type could carry 74 passengers onboard.
One of the largest aircraft of its time, the Clipper had a range of 3,500 miles, enough to cross the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. With a cost of US$550,000 (1936) per unit, it was powered by four Wright R-2600 Twin Cyclone radial engines.
For its wings, Boeing re-used the design from their earlier XB-15 bomber prototype. Twelve Clippers were built, nine of which served with Pan American World Airways.
Pan Am’s Clippers were built for one-class luxury air travel, a necessity given the long duration of trans-Oceanic flights. One of the many features was the seats, which could be converted into 36 bunks for overnight accommodation.
Other luxury features of the Boeing 314 included a lounge and dining area, with the galleys crewed by chefs from four-star hotels. Men and women were provided with separate dressing rooms, and white-coated stewards served five and six-course meals with gleaming silver service.
With a cruising speed of 188 miles per hour (303 km/h) (typical flights at maximum gross weight were flown at 155 miles per hour (249 km/h)) in 1940, Pan Am’s schedule San Francisco to Honolulu was 19 hours.
Initial Mail Delivery Flight Also Starts in Port Washington
Twelve years after Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic on the single-engine Spirit of St. Louis on May 20, 1939, Pan Am’s Boeing 314 Yankee Clipper departed Port Washington, New York for the first scheduled mail service across the Atlantic.
According to clipperflyingboats.com, the Clipper carried 112,574 pieces of mail (mostly from stamp- collectors), four dozen California marigolds for Britain’s Queen Mary, and 16 Pan Am employees under the command of Captain Arthur E. La Porte.