The first scheduled airline in America started in January, 1914; Tony Jannus hauled one passenger 22 miles from Tampa to St. Petersburg, Florida. Losing money, the venture was discontinued after three months.
In 1925, Scadtka Air Lines was set up in Colombia by a World War I German military aviator. SAL planned to fly to Panama, Central America, Cuba and the US, transporting passengers and mail.
Under the leadership of Juan T Trippe, on October 28, 1927, competitive firms joined forces and formed Pan American Airways, Inc and began scheduled mail service between Key West and Havana. Passenger service started on January 16, 1928.
There were few aviation facilities in Latin America, only three weather stations and no aeronautical radio. A radio genius, Hugo Leuteritz joined the company in 1928, and Charles Lindbergh became the company’s Technical Director in 1929. That year, the company had four contracts, 44 multi-engine planes.
An expansion of major proportions began. Within 2-years Pan Am routes extended from Miami to Brazil and Buenos Aires, and from both Miami and Brownsville, Texas, via Central America to Panama.
Then attention was directed to the Orient. They chose a flying boat to safely and comfortably carry crew, passengers, mail and cargo, from California to the Orient and back again, over water on a regularly scheduled basis.
In October, 1931, Pan Am introduced the Sikorsky S-40 (four-engined flying boats,) the first American Clipper. Many new routes were opened by Lindbergh himself, and by then Leuteritz had completed a system-wide radio network, and equipped all aircraft with two-way radio.
Trippe put Hawaiʻi on the aviation map when he chose to use the Islands as a springboard to reach the Orient – stepping stone islands along the route upon which to light for servicing, passengers and rest. The route was fixed as San Francisco to Honolulu, Midway Island, Wake Island, Guam, the Philippines, and then to China.
On January 1, 1935, Trippe sent his technical staff from the east coast to San Francisco to set up a Pacific base of operations. Two months later, an expedition team set up operations and flew the route from California to China
Less than eight months, Postmaster General James A. Farley and Trippe watched the China Clipper take off on the first airmail flight, by way of Hawaiʻi and the other islands, on to its Manila destination. (Farley called it “the greatest and most significant achievement in the marvelous, fascinating development of air transportation.”
Then on April 17, 1935, the Pioneer Clipper landed in Hawaiian waters, just 17-hours and 44-minutes from its Alameda, California, starting point. The next day it headed to the Philippines and the Orient.
On October 21, 1936, Pan American initiated regular six-day weekly passenger service between San Francisco and Manila via Honolulu.
In 1940 the world’s first pressurized airliner, Boeing 307 Stratoliner brought new, fast service to Latin America, augmented by new Douglas DC-3As throughout Latin America, Alaska, and China.
At the time of Pearl Harbor, Pan American operated on 88,500-route miles, serving 52 countries and had 8,750 employees, with 162 aircraft, 192 radio/weather stations and 300 airports. (During the WWII, Pan Am operated many services for the military and other branches of the government.)
In the postwar era, expansion resumed.
Pan Am re-opened its Pacific and Atlantic routes; and on June 17, 1947, Pan Am opened a new Round-the-World schedule, followed by the new ‘Jet Era’ in October 1958. The 747, a new ‘wide-body,’ started in 1970.
The 1970s soon brought major increases in fuel prices. Deregulation brought increased competition. At the same time, Pan American made a bid to link the United States and Japan via Alaska, by passing Hawaii in a “modernization of the Pacific air structure.”
In rapid succession, Pan American’s 50th anniversary on November 22, 1985 of their first flight across the Pacific was followed by the announcement of the sale of their routes west of the Islands to United Airlines and then the sudden closing of all operations in Hawaiʻi on April 26, 1986.
The tragedy of Lockerbie (the Scottish town where Pan Am flight 103 crashed following a terrorist bomb attack on December 21, 1988) was Pan Am’s deathblow. Pan Am was forced to declare bankruptcy on January 8, 1991 and ceased operations on December 4, 1991. (Lots of information here from hawaii-gov, Pan Am and Banning)