The Pan Am Series – Part XXIII: Panagra

Pan American-Grace Airways

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It might come as a surprise, but probably one of the most unknown of U.S. international airlines pioneered one of the key segments in Juan Trippe’s quest to circle South America with airline routes. That airline was Pan American-Grace Airways.

Once Pan American Airways began operations in 1928, it soon became clear that Juan Trippe was intent on operating routes south of the Caribbean and around the entire continent of South America. His most important destination, according to Ron Davies in Pan Am – An Airline and Its Aircraft, was Buenos Aires, the “Paris of South America”. The plan, according to Robert Daley in An American Saga – Juan Trippe and His Pan Am Empire, were two lines in South America itself. One down the west coast to Santiago, Chile and the other down the east coast to Buenos Aires. The shortest route to Buenos Aires, however, was by the west coast, and Juan Trippe needed the landing and traffic rights to set up that route. He was faced with a formidable challenge. And if it was not for Pan American-Grace Airways, Panagra, that west coast passage would not have been possible.

It all started in Peru.

In 1854, William R. Grace, the son of an Irish immigrant, founded the W. R. Grace and Company in Peru, where he worked as a ship’s chandler. In 1865 his brother Michael joined the business and the company name was changed to Grace Brothers & Co with head offices in New York City. The company was incorporated in 1865. Later a third brother joined and the three consolidated their holdings into a new private company, W. R. Grace & Company. The consolidation involved W. R. Grace & Co. of New York, Grace Brothers & Co. of Lima, Peru, Grace & Co. of Valparaiso, Chile, William R. Grace & Co. of London and J. W. Grace & Co. of San Francisco.

One of Grace’s main business was shipping. To get products from Peru to North America and Europe, William Grace founded the shipping division and service began in 1882. The shipping operation grew and Grace Line ships became a regular presence in the shipping lanes of the west coast of South America. They were known as the “Santa” ships and carried both passengers and cargo. The shipping operation, tied with an extensive business presence, including investment and ownership of piers, warehouses and real estate, gave W. R. Grace & Co. a powerful presence in the region.

In the meantime, in 1928, also in Peru, another historic event took place: A tiny single-engined Peruvian Airways Fairchild FC-2 with four passengers and mail took off from a racetrack in Lima and landed in a soccer field in Talara, Peru, 550 miles away. For all intents and purposes, this represented the beginning commercial air transportation along the west cost of South America. Another company, Huff-Daland Dusters, a crop-dusting specialist, had, on the initiative of its local representatives Harold Harris and C. E. Woolman, obtained full Peruvian traffic rights. Harris was also founder of Peruvian Airways.

Because of the power of the W. R. Grace, Juan Trippe encountered a huge obstacle. The company was run by Trippe’s father’s college roommate, W. R. Grace. That was no help, however, as the company saw no reason why Pan American should be allowed to operate in its domain. As Grace was a shipping company, there was also no need for an airline to move mail and passengers faster than its ships did.

To counter the power of Grace, Trippe sought to “exercise a political flanking movement”, according to Davies, by establishing airlines in Peru and Chile.  As Peruvian Airways already existed, he purchased half interest in it on 16 September 1928 and on 28 November acquired the Peruvian air permits held by Huff-Daland Dusters. In Chile, Chilean Airlines was formed on 21 December 1928, but never operated. The formation, a “tactical move” by Trippe, put pressure on Grace.

As a result, a compromise was reached and on 25 January 1929, Pan American-Grace Corporation (Panagra) was formed. Capitalization was $ 1 million (according to Daley; according to Davies, each side contributed $1 million), split 50-50. One month later, Panagra acquired Peruvian Airways. Panagra was incorporated on 21 February 1929 and on 2 March, won the FAM No. 9, Panama to Chile airmail contract, with a provision to cross the Andes to Buenos Aires and Montevideo. On 15 May, Panagra started its own service with a leased S-38 from Pan American. It picked up mail from Miami at Cristóbal (Panama) and carried it to Talara, where a FC-2 took it to Mollendo, Peru. The route was extended to Santiago on 21 July, and on 12 October, a Panagra Ford Tri-Motor made the first commercial flight across the Andes, reaching an altitude of 18,000 feet (5,486 meters) and establishing a mail route between Santiago and Buenos Aires.

The route extended some 4,200 miles and what is often overlooked is that the flying distance it represented was virtually unheard of during that time. In less than a year from its inception, Panagra had linked Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay with the United States. According to Daley, no domestic airline in the US  had even managed to span the country, yet, with this route, and the eventual development of the east coast route, Juan Trippe and his Pan American empire was looking at pushing planes along ten thousand miles of routes.

As Panagra expanded it achieved a number of firsts. For example: In 1933, Panagra was the first to install radio and weather stations in the Andes between Chile and Argentina; in 1946, it was first to use South American flight hostesses; in 1947, it was first to introduce DC-6 service in South America and to provide sleeper service; in 1952, it was first to introduce DC-6Bs and inaugurate tourist-class services in South America; in 1954, it was first to use the latest airborne weather radar in regularly scheduled service; and in 1955, it was first to introduce DC-7B service between the US and Argentina. Panagra was also first to introduce the DC-8 to South America.

Besides its firsts, Panagra was also noted for other achievements in support of other non-aviation events. Just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when war with the Axis was imminent, Panagra, with the assistance of the respective South American governments and at the request of the US State Department, first paralleled and then replaced the services of German controlled SEDTA in Ecuador and Lufthansa in Peru and Bolivia. This was designed to remove the Nazi threat in the region. In the humanitarian area, Panagra provided relief after earthquakes in Chile (1939 and 1961) and Peru (1948) and its planes were often sent on mercy missions, carrying, for example, vital life-saving medicine for a dying man, an iron lung to a girl stricken with polio and a shipment of drugs to arrest the spread of an epidemic.

Panagra remained a presence on the west coast of South America through the decade of the 1950s. Its “El Pacifico” tourist service and “El Interamericano” first class service were the staple for travel from the United States to cities such as Guayaquil, Lima, Antofagasta, Santiago and Buenos Aires. When Braniff was awarded authority to operate in competition with Panagra, Panagra extended its operations up to Miami and New York, in a thru-plane interchange service with Pan American and National Airlines. Braniff operated from Dallas and also offered similar service to Miami and New York with an interchange with Eastern Airlines.

By the 1960’s Braniff was in negotiations to acquire the 50% interest of W. R Grace and in December 1965, a deal was made to purchase these shares. On 17 March 1966, the remaining 50% interest was acquired from Pan American. In July 1966, the acquisition was approved by the US Civil Aeronautics Board and by February 1967, Panagra’s operations were fully integrated into Braniff.

Panagra’s operations during its life can be best illustrated with timetables. As Panagra was a major part of Pan American’s operations in South America, some of Pan Am’s timetables are used. A 1939 timetable shows operations with a Pan American S-42 flying from Miami to Panama and then a Panagra DC-2 or DC-3 from Panama south to Buenos Aires.

In the Pan Am 1948 and 1952 timetables, Panagra DC-6’s operated the “El Interamericano” first class service offering sleeper berths and the “Fiesta Lounge”. DC-4’s were also in the 1952 schedule offering “El Especial” tourist service. DC-3s were used in local services in Peru, Chile and Bolivia.

The decade of the 1950s featured extensive operations employing the DC-7B in the all-first class “El Interamericano” service, the DC-6B in the tourist “El Pacifico service and the DC-3 and DC-4 in local services in Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru. The Interamericano and El Pacifico flights were a thru-plane interchange service originating in New York. National operated the New York/Washington, DC –  Miami sector and Pan American operated Miami-Panama sector. The Panagra flights also received connecting passengers at Panama from Pan Am’s Central American services. A 1959 Pan Am timetable illustrates these services. Braniff also operated west coast routes with its first class “El Dorado” DC-7C services and tourist class “El Conquistador” DC-6 services. Braniff also offered a trans-continental service from Lima to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

PG - Tags frontPG - Tags back

In 1960 came the jets, and Panagra introduced the DC-8 to its New York to Buenos Aires thru-plane service.

Panagra DC-8 at Panama (Allan Van Wickler)

Panagra DC-8 at Panama (Allan Van Wickler).

By 1967, Braniff’s acquisition of Panagra was complete, although Pan American’s timetables continued to show the service up to 1971.

Afterword:

Gustavo Vidal was with Pan American-Grace Airways at it’s inception in 1929 and was the airline’s first Comptroller. Vidal remained with the airline as Comptroller and Vice President until November 1950. At that time, he assembled a photo album highlighting the early years of Panagra, complete with an accompanying typed list of descriptions of each photo.

When Vidal passed away in 1975 many of his files went into storage. The photo album surfaced again for the first time in 2012, and is presented here in its entirety. To view it, click here.  Also included in this link is Vidal’s Panagra-related personal images and mementos, a confidential docket on “Panagra’s Importance to National Defense” and Panagra’s 30th Anniversary Publicity Kit.

For further information and images of the airline, Chip and Jef Reahard have made an outstanding home for Panagra on the internet. Visit PanAmericanGrace.com for the definitive Panagra website.

For additional information about Pan American World Airways:

The Book Pan American World Airways – Aviation history Through the Words of its People contains 71 stories written by the people of Pan Am who played important roles in many of the important events in Pan Am’s history. The book is published by BlueWaterPress.

Preview Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People

For purchasing information, visit the publisher, BlueWaterPress or Amazon

Also available in a Kindle Edition

For a companion book with a timeline of Pan Am history and images of aircraft, timetables and other memorabilia, see a preview of  Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline

The book is also available directly from the publisher, BlueWaterPress or Amazon.

For further information about the history of Pan American World Airways, visit: Pan Am Historical Foundation

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About James Patrick ("Jamie") Baldwin
James Patrick ("Jamie") Baldwin is an author, blogger, lecturer and consultant in air transportation, an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Maryland University College and a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Westminster (London). Previously at ERAU’s College of Business he taught Business Law, Business Law for Airline Managers, and Airline Management. He was also faculty advisor to Sigma Alpha Epsilon. As a lecturer he coordinates Aviation Law workshops for Aeropodium, a UK-based aviation-related events company and organizes Aviation Law Conferences at his law school, American University Washington College of Law (AUWCL). As a consultant he specializes in start-up airline strategies, airline marketing, regulatory compliance, licensing, aircraft sourcing, strategic planning, contracts, agency agreements and preparing business plans. An avid golfer, Mr Baldwin is a golf correspondent for the Daytona Beach News-Journal. Previously Mr Baldwin served as Deputy General Manager for Legal and Regulatory Affairs of Star Airways, a small Turkish cargo airline of which he was a founder, and prior to that, the US Representative of Tajik Air, the international airline of the Republic of Tajikistan. In the latter capacity, he represented the airline’s interests before the US government, multilateral development banks and private US and international business interests. He also coordinated and prepared on behalf of the government of Tajikistan a request for a grant from the US Trade and Development Agency for a feasibility study on its air transport sector. Mr Baldwin also served as an officer in the US Navy (1974-1978) and the active US Naval Reserve (1978-1994). His latest assignments included service as a Naval Liaison Officer on tanker convoys during the Iran/Iraq War, Officer in Charge of military officers boarding, inspecting and briefing masters of merchant ships delivering military cargo during the first Gulf War and Commanding Officer of a US Naval Reserve unit. He is now retired with the rank of Commander. Mr Baldwin is the author of Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline (BluewaterPress, 2011). He also co-edited, with Jeff Kriendler, former Vice President, Corporate Communications at Pan Am, Pan American World Airways – Aviation History through the Words of its People (BluewaterPress, 2011). Mr Baldwin obtained an A.B. (Bachelor’s) Degree in International Relations from the University of Southern California (Los Angeles) and a J.D. (Juris Doctor) Degree from the AUWCL (Washington DC). He is a member of the U.S. Naval Institute, the U. S. Golf Association and Sigma Alpha Epsilon. He has traveled widely and includes among his interests golf, hill walking, sailing, model railroading, spectator sports, classical music and writing. He is married and resides in Maryland.

22 Responses to The Pan Am Series – Part XXIII: Panagra

  1. Doug Miller says:

    Outstanding post! Great pictures! Wonderful history – and I really appreciated the link to Gustavo Vidal’s fantastic album.

    One thing I thought worth following up: According to Ralph O’Neill in his book “A Dream of Eagles” (p. 192), NYRBA inaugurated trans-Andean service with flight carrying paying passengers from Buenos Aires to Santiago and return on August 1, 1929, using a Ford Trimotor. But who knows . .

    Thanks again for what you do so well.

    • Thanks, Doug. I’ll check into that. Information from that era is so sketchy, conflicting versions always seem to emerge! The Vidal album was a real treat. It had a lot of valuable information and complemented my research.

  2. Thank you for such an informative post on such an interesting subject.

  3. Bob Black says:

    Jaime, great article gain! The timetable shows a Boeing 314 not the S42 I believe. Not to be picky, after 30 plus years at Boeing! Pan Am, FAA and Embre Riddle one gets that way. Tnx again. Bob Black

  4. George Fields says:

    Hi. Loved the article. I just wonder why PAA did not buy out Grace instead of Braniff. Was it money or government blocking the deal?

    • jeffrey1 says:

      It was a competitive issue. Braniff was already a major player on the West Coast of South America, but would probably have been overwhelmed if Pan Am got all of Panagra. The U.S. government wanted somebody other than Pan Am, and Braniff was already there. And Braniff kept substantially all of Panagra’s employees (including their cabin crews and the Lima hub which stayed until Braniff shut down in 1982). Braniff had a great reputation on the West Coast of South America, and was genuinely considered as the de facto national airline of a number of countries.

      • Thank you for your comments. When I was a youngster our family lived in Peru during the late 1950s. Besides Panagra, we also flew on Braniff’s DC-6B service (“El Conquistador”) and the DC-7C (“El Dorado”). I also remember seeing a Braniff 707 flying over Miraflores making a test flight into Limatambo. I have an old timetable from the late 1960s. I recall the PG DC-8s went to Braniff as well.

  5. Betsey Sanpere says:

    This is a fascinating post. I have a silver Panagra captain’s, a green Panagra map with times/dates denoted of flights from that took my Mother from Panama to Rio – down the west coast of SA to Chile, across to BA and then up to Rio. I also have the certificate from the Panagra flight as my Mother crossed the Equator – very formal and in a frame and a “short snorter” signed by everyone on the flight and dated. The flight was the beginning of her 18 month deployment in Rio during the war, Also, I have extensive Panair do Brasil memorabilia too. Any ideas what to do with it?

    • Edward Young says:

      Hi Betsey~ If you are still in possession, I would recommend the San Francisco Airport Museum ~ have made extensive contributions of Panagra related material there myself. The curator of aviation, John Hill, is the grandson of Howard B. Dean, a Pan Am and Panagra director. The website is http://www.sfoarts,org. Salud! ~ed

  6. Allan M. Van Wickler says:

    Hi, Jamie;

    For the record, I do want to mention Don Huff and Paul McQuade who were Panagra sales reps based in the Chrysler Building in the late 50’s; I did numerous joint sales calls with them around NYC when I was on the streets for Pan Am. They were qualified, nice, outgoing, etc. and were truly fine representatives of the carrier and the industry we used to represent.

  7. Edward Young says:

    Good take. My grandfather, Harold J. Roig, worked for Grace and Panagra, and the subject of the 50/50 ownership of Panagra, a titanic, 35‑year‑long corporate battle that Grace ultimately won in the Supreme Court, was always a lively one when recounted from his lips. I live in Bolivia, where both the Panagra and Grace names are still held in high regard.

    • Thanks, Ed, for your comments. I flew on a PG flight from NYC to LIM as a young boy. It was the “El Pacifico”, at the time a DC-6B. While living in LIM, we often went to Limatambo to watch both the PG and BN flights. Quite a scene…..I remember PG had a DC-3 service from Lima that went through Chile and Bolivia. Best, Jamie Baldwin

      • Edward Young says:

        Only saw a Panagra plane once, quite by accident…ten years old, ’67…in Florida, a DC‑7 (IIRC), there to get new livery. THAT got my heart beating like a big bass drum~

  8. Fred Luss says:

    Good stuff here. My Dad, Peter Luss, was Panagra’s Crew Scheduler at Limatambo as a young 23-25 yr old kid from 1946-1948. I have his company ID card from those days. He later became Sales Mgr, Cargo for Grace Lines till we left Lima and moved stateside in 1959.

    • Thanks, Fred. We lived in Lima (San Isidro) for six months during the summer/fall of 1957 and also for about six months in early 1960. I remember seeing PG planes at Limatambo. My parents flew on the El Interamericano a couple of times and I remember flying on El Pacifico. We also, ahem, flew on Braniff…….

    • Gina Maslow says:

      Wow! May they crossed paths…My father, Ephraim Maslow, worked for Panagra as ground crew from 1945 to 1949. I would love to know if there is any information from that time period.

  9. Reblogged this on JPB Transportation and commented:

    On January 25, 1929, Panagra was founded. Here is a story I wrote about this unique airline.

  10. Jane Monaghan says:

    Thanks for a great article. My Dad flew for Pan Am starting the early 40’s on DC-3’s and all the way up to 747’s in the 70’s. A great deal of his routes were Latin American during the PanAGra era. very interesting. He knew Mr. Trippe and so many of the founders. Wish he could have read your article.

    • Thanks for your nice comments. We are soon to be releasing a book commemorating the 90th anniversary of the founding of Pan Am. I recently posted a Pan Am Series posting about it. Are you familiar with the Pan Am Historical Foundation (panam.org)?

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