United’s Patterson a giant of the airline industry in colour

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August 13, 2019
Patterson

United’s William (Pat) Patterson was a giant of the airline industry and is brought to life with these special colour images done by french colourist Benoit Vienne.

William Patterson was born on a sugarcane plantation on Oahu, in Hawaii. When he was 13, his widowed mother moved to San Francisco and he remained at the Honolulu Military Academy.

However, young Patterson was not one for the academy and left after he was able to persuade a local captain to give him passage to San Francisco if he worked on the ship.

But Patterson was not one for high school either and went to work in the Wells Fargo Bank.

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He progressed quickly and became a loans officer.

And then according to Frank Taylor’s book “Pat” Patterson on one March day in 1927, all the more senior executives were out to lunch leaving the 27-year-old Patterson in charge.

Sitting at the front desk Patterson observed a rather hesitant and genteel visitor come in and he went to greet him asking “can we do anything for you?.”

The stranger said, observing the young bank clerk: “I thought so when I came in, but I guess not.”

“Have a seat and let’s talk,” urged Patterson keen to make his first loan.

The rather diffident prospective customer was founder and president of Pacific Air Transport Vern C Gorst.

He made his first loan of $5000 to the struggling airline and later became an advisor to Gorst.

Then fate stepped in again.

Gorst sold the airline to Boeing Air Transport, and Patterson came to the attention of Boeing’s top man Philip Johnson.

Johnson recruited him in 1929 to be assistant to the president of Boeing Airplane Company and Boeing Air Transport.

Then in 1931, Boeing Air Transport was one of four airlines that merged into United Air Lines and Patterson moved to Chicago to become United’s general manager.

He was quickly on the way up becoming president at the age of just 34.

He was always at the forefront of technology ordering the DC-3 and was the man behind the development of the DC-4, DC-6, DC-7 series, the most successful piston-engine airliners.

He also laid out the specification for the DC-8 jet.

Patterson
Pat Patterson (Left) accepts United’s first DC-7. Don Douglas is second from right.

Those orders led to a deep friendship with plane-maker Donald Douglas.

Pat Patterson and Donald Douglas at the signing for 30 DC-8 jets in 1955. Credit; Boeing Historical Archives colourized by Benoit Vienne

But he did not forget his Boeing heritage, ordering Boeing 720s and launching the 727s and 737.

Pat Patterson with Boeing’s Bill Allen signing for Boeing 720s in 1957. Credit; Boeing Historical Archives colourized by Benoit Vienne

In 1961 United purchased Capital Airlines to become the world’s largest airline.

He retired from United in 1966 and passed away in 1980.