I LIKE WRITING the kind of historical story such as today’s about the 747. But they couldn’t happen without the help of librarians, researchers at universities, public agencies and volunteer groups who are more than glad to let me pick and choose interesting nuggets.

Cover story: From its plush upper deck to its 5-star menus, the 747 — now in range for its final approach — defined luxury travel

They’re universally nice people who love sharing their work. For me, who never took a history class in college, it’s a fantastic chance to talk to the experts. And, frankly, to get to the point without spending a whole quarter sitting in class.

There was Bryce Evans, a food historian at Liverpool Hope University in England. I emailed him after a Google search showed he was publishing a book on Pan Am food. I asked him several questions, and he answered with a detailed, 1,000-word email.

I could use only a small portion. But if you’d like to learn about the sandwich war in economy between Pan Am and SAS, it’s linked here. SAS and its smørrebrød, the open-faced, lavishly garnished sandwich, won.

And there was Elizabeth Zanoni, an associate history professor at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. In Googling, I found that she had given a talk on Pan Am’s gourmet dining.


Answering my questions, she sent me a 680-word email, with the kind of little details that bring a story to life, such as the Steward College in Miami that Pan Am had with a life-size mock-up of a 747. It was for trainees to “practice the arts and graces of gourmet meal service.”

For this story, here are a few other folks who helped without hesitation: Rachel Cole, reference librarian at Northwestern University’s vast Transportation Library. Doug Miller, of San Francisco, at the Pan Am Historical Foundation. Mike Lombardi, historian for the Boeing Co. Nicole Davis, supervisory archivist for the Museum of Flight.

Finally, I can’t forget Miyoko Wolf, researcher at this paper, who helped me right at the beginning, when I was first looking into this story. I sent her one of those nebulous requests asking whether we had done anything on this subject, anything local, what about anything national, you know?

Miyoko, you’re a patient person.