“From the earliest colonial days, ship-building has been a favorite industry in America. The first vessel built within the present limits of the United States was the Virginia, a pinnace of thirty tons, constructed in 1601 by the Popham colonists”.
In the year 1668, the ship-building in New England, small as it may now seem, had become sufficiently important … of 1332 vessels registered as built In New England between 1674 and 1714, no less than 239 were built and sold to merchants abroad.”
“(T)he American vessels showed a marked superiority in point of speed over British men-of-war and merchant ships during (the American Revolution and War of 1812)”. Then came the clipper ship.
“The origin of the word clipper is not quite clear, though it seems to be derived from the verb clip, which in former times meant, among other things, to run or fly swiftly.”
“The word survived in the New England slang expressions ‘to clip it’ and ‘going at a good clip,’ or ‘a fast clip,’ are familiar expressions there to this day.”
“It therefore seems reasonable to suppose that when vessels of a new model were built, which were intended, in the language of the times, to clip over the waves rather than plough through them, the improved type of craft become known as clippers because of their speed.” (Clark)
The Clipper ship, generally either a schooner or a brigantine, was a classic sailing ship of the 19th century, renowned for its beauty, grace, and speed.
“The Clipper Ship Era began in 1843 as a result of growing demand for a more rapid delivery of tea from China (and) continued under the stimulating influence of the discovery of gold in California and Australia in 1849 and 1851”. (Clark)
Fast forward, and a new clipper made the scene across the Pacific – the flying boat. The flying boat dominated international airline service in the 1920s and 1930s.
As airplane travel became popular, Pan American Airlines asked for a long-range, four-engine flying boat. Pan Am chief Juan Trippe called the airplanes ‘clippers’ to link his airline with the maritime heritage of the world’s great ocean liners. (Pacific Aviation Museum)
In October, 1931, Pan Am introduced the Sikorsky S-40, the first American Clipper. When it began to fly, record after record was broken for performance in the air. (Horvat)
At the beginning of the decade, flying across oceans was a life-risking experience. However, beginning in 1936, Pan Am began to fly across the Pacific. (Pacific Aviation Museum)
On November 22, 1935, Postmaster General James A Farley and Mr Juan Trippe ordered Pilot Musick, commanding Pan Am’s China Clipper, to take off on the first airmail flight, by way of Hawai‘i and the other islands, on to its Manila destination.
Twenty thousand spectators were on hand to watch festivities at Alameda (on San Francisco Bay), all eyes on the immense silver airplane. They saw an estimated 110,000 pieces of mail weighing nearly two tons being stowed on board. (hawaii-gov)
First to make the Pacific crossings by way of Hawaii and other islands, through the years Pan American steadily increased its world services.
The first Martin Clippers were augmented in 1941 by larger Boeing Clippers. On November 16, 1945, Pan Am resumed commercial operations with their Boeing Clippers which had been leased to the Navy during the war. (Horvat)
Passenger numbers on a clipper depended on fuel needs and cargo–air mail and packages had priority. Usually only eight or nine passengers (sometimes fewer) flew on the long mainland-Hawaii hop. The clippers flew one trip a week in each direction.
“Her interior was like that of no other airplane,” reported journalist H. R. Ekins. “Her lounge… would seat 16 persons comfortably, leaving plenty of space in which to walk about.” The seaplane seemed to him “as roomy as the [airship] Hindenburg and as steady as a rock.”
The main cabin also served as a dining room. “It was a conventional supper–grapefruit, celery and olives, soup, steak, vegetables, salad, ice cream, cake and coffee,” wrote passenger Charles McKew Parr. “The captain acted as though we were his guests.” (Smithsonian)
The first paying passengers of the Pan American Hawaii Clipper included: Richard F. Bradley, San Francisco; Mrs. Zetta Averill, Aberdeen, WA; TF Ryan, III, San Francisco; Alfred Bennet, Hightstown, NJ; Col. Charles Bradley, Chicago; Mrs. Clara Adams, Philadelphia; and Wilbur May, Los Angeles. (hawaii-gov)