Alaska long has been called America's last frontierthe final refuge for the restless, the risk-takers and the adventurers. But it also has been an entrepreneurial frontier, providing a chance to build business success from its vast expanses of undeveloped wilderness. The founding fathers of Alaska Airlines, marking its 75th birthday this year, were both adventurers and entrepreneurs. And certainly they were risk-takers, bush pilots par excellence who often literally flew on a wing and a prayer.
Some of the world's leading airlines got their starts through the heroic competitive struggles of aviator entrepreneurs who began with a couple of little planes and built empires gradually over decades. The origins of Air Canada, which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year and its first passenger flight this month, aren't quite so romantic: It was created by an Act of Parliament and started from scratch by government bureaucrats. But as its long and successful history has shown, the bureaucrats got it right.
Look back into the history of any large company and odds are you will find some ironies lurking in its past. Cathay Pacific Airways, celebrating its 60th birthday this month, is no exception. Here's one: Although its name is virtually synonymous with Hong Kong, the two men who initially got it off the ground were from Texas and Australia. Here's another: What they really wanted to do was to start a trading company, not a passenger airline.
In 1920, the Australian states of Queensland and Northern Territory lent their names to a new airline that would grow to be, 85 years later, one of the premier air transportation companies in the world. Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Ltd., or Qantas, was formed in the years after World War I to serve the vast reaches of the Outback.