Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tony Jannus landed here: The birth of the commercial airline industry

Hard to believe when you look at this monument in a small park on the Hillsborough River that it actually honors a singular achievement and one that changed almost all of our lives forever. Tony Jannus, born Antony Habersack Jannus (1889-1916), became the first airline pilot when he flew the inaugural flight of the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line on January 1, 1914, the first scheduled commercial airline flight in the world.

Prior to that year, it was a long way from Tampa to St. Petersburg. You could opt to travel by slow-going steamboat, or on dusty, bumpy roads by horse and carriage – or maybe even in an early horseless carriage – or survive the three-hour trip by the railroad. It was proposed that Jannus, an accomplished pilot by that year, fly a Benoist flying boat as a “commercial line” over the bays and connect the two cities. Hard to imagine that the idea for an “airline” hadn’t been thought of or attempted before, but planes were still new and were a scary novelty mode of transport to most sane folks. A contract to operate the airline was signed on December 17, 1913, ten years after the Wright Brothers first historic flight. The contract called for two round-trip flights a day via the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line – the first scheduled airline company. The rest, as they say, is history. I’m just glad technology has kept pace with our need to travel faster over greater and greater distances and we can count on more than a mere 75 horsepower engine and a speed of 75 mph to take us across the country or overseas. The original flight time was 23 minutes and my guess is, it was on time and no luggage was lost…on the first flight anyway. You had better have packed goggles and a rain slicker though as Jannus flew at about 50 feet off the water.

This aircraft propeller monument was erected in 1956 to honor Jannus' achievement. The Tony Jannus Award is given annually by the Tony Jannus Distinguished Aviation Society to recognize outstanding individual achievement in the scheduled commercial aviation industry.


  1. White Knuckle Airlines; different days. And then, having reached the pinnacle in Concord, we scrapped it. I can't believe we did that to the world's most beautiful airliner.

  2. This is definitely new to me, and I love learning about it! Thanks, Frank!

  3. They probably didn't have beverage service on those flights.

  4. What an interesting piece of history. Thanks Frank!