1935 Fifty Years Ago

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The November 22 inauguration of Pan American Airways’ Pacific route—the first commercial air transport available to the Pacific Islands—was a public relations extravaganza. Patriotic speeches were made, a letter from President Roosevelt was read, and the fervent comments of the governor of Hawaii and the president of the Philippines were relayed over short-wave radio. Nearly 150,000 people lined the shores of San Francisco Bay to watch the takeoff of the China Clipper , Pan Am’s flying boat, and the entire proceedings were broadcast around the world.

Not all nations celebrated the occasion, however. Pan Am had been contracted to fly the route by the U.S. Post Office and was being generously subsidized by the government. That subsidization, among other things, convinced Japan that the United States’ interest in the route went beyond getting mail to the residents of Guam: “This project can be regarded as military preparations in the guise of civilian enterprise,” read a Japanese editorial. “Commercially and industrially, there is no justification for extension of American airways to the Pacific Islands… future use of these airports for military purposes is contemplated.” The United States denied it, but Japan was not persuaded.

On the morning of the inaugural, FBI agents surprised two Japanese nationals preparing to sabotage the radio direction finder in the China Clipper ’s chart room. No mention of the incident was made to the press, and the inauguration proceeded as though nothing were amiss.

The China Clipper ’s takeoff was executed to the tune of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and, aside from a close brush with the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, was smooth. So too was the flight that ended six days later in Manila Bay, after mail had been delivered in Honolulu, Midway, Wake Island, and Guam.

• October 10: Porgy and Bess opens on Broadway.

• October 23: Dutch Schulz, head of a crime syndicate in New York City and Newark, New Jersey, is mortally wounded by rival gangsters.

• November 9: The Committee for Industrial Organization is formed.