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Patterson, William

Patterson, William Allan

Enshrined 1976 1899-1980

Strong demand for air travel arose during the post-World War II economic boom that swept through the U.S. Patterson met the demand by expanding United Air Lines’ workforce, acquiring new air routes and purchasing United’s first jet aircraft. But with all the improvements he never forgot the importance of his employees. “Stockholders and employees are equal partners,” he stated.

    As vice president of United Aircraft and Transport Corporation, he introduced the first flight stewardess in 1930.
    In 1934 he became president of United Air Lines Transport Corporation and introduced air express services, flight kitchens and sleeper services, and improved passenger safety and comfort.
    Planned the DC-4 airliner, began flights to Hawaii in 1946, and established specifications for the DC-8 jetliner.
    After the Korean War, he equipped airliners with weather-mapping radar and began nonstop transcontinental flights.
    Installed the first airdeck and electronic reservation system.



William Allan Patterson, an outstanding pioneer of commercial aviation, began his career as a banker. He became involved in aviation when he gave a loan to the struggling Pacific Air Transport Company in 1927, and later suggested its sale to the Boeing Airplane Company.

Patterson so impressed Boeing’s president that he hired Patterson to be his assistant in 1929. Patterson later became Executive Vice President and General Manager of Boeing Air Transport. Soon he was promoted to Vice President of United Aircraft and Transport Corporation and managed its Boeing Air Transport, Pacific Air Transport, National Air Transport and Varney Air Lines. Patterson made an important contribution when he introduced the first airline stewardess on a flight in 1930. Later he led the newly-formed United Air Lines and forged the four small airlines into the nation’s largest.

In 1934, Patterson became President of United and introduced air express service, free fare for wives and created the first flight kitchen to insure quality food service aloft. He also established a “Rule of Five”: Safety, Dependability, Passenger Comfort, Honesty and Sincerity, as operating goals for United, and introduced important employee benefit programs.

In 1936, Patterson laid plans for the advanced DC-4 airliner. But World War II started and the DC-4 served as a vital wartime transport. During the war, more than half of United’s DC-3s joined the Military Air Transport System, its facilities modified bombers, its planes hauled supplies to Alaska and to the Pacific Theater and its employees trained over 7,000 military navigators.

After the war, Patterson introduced coast-to-coast cargo service, purchased improved DC-6s, and opened flight service to Hawaii with pressurized Stratocruisers, followed by DC-7s. But he never forgot United’s employees, saying: “Stockholders and employees are equal partners.”

Patterson soon launched programs for weather-mapping airborne radar, and the DC-8 jetliner. In 1954, the first airdock was installed. Patterson went on to sign a $175 million dollar order for DC-8s, and opened an advanced electronic reservation system. Later, United also acquired Capital Air Lines.

In 1963, Patterson became Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer and before he retired, he placed a $750 million dollar order, the largest in history, to complete his quest for an all-jet airline. William Allan Patterson’s outstanding contributions to aviation can be measured by his professionalism in airline development and his innovations in passenger service, as well as by his personal concern for employees, who he said were United’s greatest resource.

After a lengthy illness, William Allan Patterson died in June of 1980.

For more information on William Patterson, you may want to visit the following websites:

American National Business Hall of Fame
Horatio Alger Association