This photo from The East Hampton Star’s archive shows Juan Terry Trippe (1899-1981) receiving an award from the Brazilian government for his contributions to international travel. Juan appears fourth from left, next to his wife, Elizabeth Stettinius Trippe, holding his award.
Juan Trippe founded Pan American Airways, one of the world’s first truly international airlines. A summer resident of East Hampton for many years, he had a large oceanfront house at the end of what is now West End Road, bordering Georgica Pond.
Pan Am, as it was known, began as an air taxi service for the East Coast elite’s resort trips. The company grew quickly, picking up mail-carrying contracts from the United States government in 1926 and becoming the world’s largest airline by 1930.
Trippe’s ultimate goal was to make air travel accessible to the masses, which he accomplished by offering “tourist rates” to passengers otherwise unable to afford airfare. He also pioneered long-range air service, leading Pan Am to provide the first regular airline service between the U.S. and South America. In 1935, Pan Am established the first such service over the Pacific Ocean.
Trippe’s efforts to connect the Americas led to this photo’s Rio de Janeiro ceremony on Oct. 26, 1946. The Brazilian government awarded him the National Order of the Southern Cross to honor his role in making the country accessible to people around the world and strengthening the relationship between Brazil and the U.S.
Brazil’s acting foreign minister presented the award at Itamaraty Palace, a grand estate that housed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the time. Pieces of the palace’s extravagant interior have been preserved, including the elaborate tapestry visible behind Trippe in this image.
Despite its lasting impact on international air travel, Pan American Airways was shuttered in 1991, a decade after Trippe’s death. The company’s influence lives on, however, as international air travel has become the cornerstone of our increasingly interconnected world.
Julia Tyson is a librarian and archivist in the East Hampton Library’s Long Island Collection.