• Wed. Oct 5th, 2022

United’s Patterson, an airline industry giant in color

ByKimberly A. Brochu

Apr 8, 2022
United Airline’s William (Pat) Patterson (left) with Donald Douglas at the signing of the airline’s order for 30 DC-8s. Colorized by Benoit Vienne

United’s William (Pat) Patterson was a giant in the airline industry and comes to life with these special color images by French colorist Benoit Vienne.

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

However, the younger Patterson was no one for the academy and left after successfully persuading a local captain to give him passage to San Francisco if he worked on the ship.

But Patterson wasn’t the high school type either, and went to work at Wells Fargo Bank.

READ: Etihad Airways unveils its new A350

READ: Virgin Australia’s new corporate loyalty program

He progressed rapidly and became a loan officer.

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

Sitting at the front desk, Patterson watched a rather hesitant and distinguished visitor enter and went over to greet him, asking “can we do something for you?”.

The stranger said, watching the young bank clerk, “I thought so when I walked in, but I guess not.”

“Sit down and let’s talk about it,” urged Patterson eager to make his first loan.

The rather shy potential customer was Pacific Air Transport founder and president Vern C Gorst.

He made his first $5,000 loan to the struggling airline and later became an adviser to Gorst.

Then fate intervened again.

Gorst sold the airline to Boeing Air Transport, and Patterson caught the eye of Boeing’s best man, Philip Johnson.

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

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

He quickly rose through the ranks, becoming president at just 34 years old.

He was always at the forefront of technology commanding 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 presented the specifications of the DC-8 jet.

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

These orders led to a deep friendship with aircraft manufacturer Donald Douglas.

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

But he hasn’t forgotten his Boeing heritage, ordering Boeing 720s and launching the 727 and 737.

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

In 1961 United bought Capital Airlines to become the largest airline in the world.

He retired from United in 1966 and died in 1980.