Soaring to New Heights:

 Tony Jannus’ Impact on Tampa Bay’s Development


By Chase Dunn


Anthony H. Jannus was one of the founding fathers of modern commercial aviation due to his pioneering efforts in the art of flying.  Famous among those who kept their eyes to the skies, Jannus became nationally well known for his piloting skill during World War 1 when he flew the first flight from which a parachute jump was made.  With his famous 23 minute flight in 1914 between St. Petersburg and Tampa – the first scheduled commercial aviation flight – he laid the foundation for the influx of tourism that led, and continues to drive, much of the development and success of the Tampa Bay area.  With a new form of transportation now at their disposal, people began utilizing airplanes between St. Petersburg and Tampa because their travel time was now much quicker and as a result business in the aviation sector soared!  St. Petersburg’s population and industry grew exponentially due to the route’s success, transforming the small town into a big city.  Companies and corporations sprang up and flourished, especially in St. Petersburg.  The populations and economies of Tampa and St. Petersburg boomed and are still growing today due to the rapid growth of the tourism industry; a direct result of that famed initial air flight Jannus piloted in 1914.

Before Tony Jannus flew the St. Petersburg-Tampa route, St. Petersburg wasn’t the well-known city it is today.  In 1909, the city had a population of about 1,600 people.  However, in 1920, after the Tampa-St. Petersburg Airboat route had been established, the population had hit 14,200 people, almost 9 times the population in 1909.  In the 1920’s, during the boom in the economy, land speculators and tourists flooded St. Petersburg, stimulating both economic and population growth.  Even the Great Depression only slightly hindered the city’s growth.  By 1940 the city’s population exceeded 60,000 people.

Of course, throughout the 1900’s the economy of St. Petersburg, based in tourism since 1914, has supported the population.  After the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line had been established and commercial aviation was kick started, National Airlines established itself in St. Petersburg. Between 1905 and 1925, 10 major hotels were built to house the influx of tourists from National Airlines and small airports.  By the 1930’s these airlines were carrying many thousands of passengers to cities across North and Central America.  St. Petersburg was one of few cities that built up without a large industrial or manufacturing base, instead depending on tourists spending their money on the recreation and hospitality industries.  Restaurants, hotels, and recreational businesses flourished in St. Petersburg because the city advertised itself as a tourist destination that was now both faster and more convenient for tourists to reach.  The economy was almost entirely entwined with this increased tourism.

Even today the majority of St. Petersburg’s economy is still is largely based on tourism.  The St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport registers about one million passengers each year. These tourists spend more than two billion dollars a year, which influxes directly into St. Petersburg’s economy.  In 2003 over 250,000 people worked in jobs related directly to tourism within the Tampa Bay area (including Clearwater and St. Petersburg).  That’s over 1/5 of the labor force in St. Petersburg!  The booming tourism industry allows St. Petersburg to maintain its status as one of the fastest growing regions in the entire state of Florida.  The city’s population increased by approximately 16% between 1990 and 2000.  While the city continues to develop and grow in both size and population, funding from tourism helps support the necessary services and improvements the city’s citizens require.  For example, the city was able to supply $325,000 to 33 separate neighborhood developments and improvements.  There are now three major airports, all shipping Florida’s largest exports. All three airports and the companies that use them for shipping owe their success to Tony Jannus, the man who made it all possible through his inaugural commercial flight route  and the resulting publicity that initiated both St. Petersburg’s and Tampa’s prosperous growth.

Tampa enjoyed a similar boom in economy and population because of its early foothold in commercial aviation.  However, when Jannus flew his historic flight, Tampa was already a flourishing, albeit young, city.  Tampa already had a foothold in manufacturing, primarily in cigars.  Since Tampa was already a medium-sized city when the St. Pete-Tampa route was flown, Tampa became the hub of commercial aviation rather than St. Petersburg.  This meant that more routes were flown from Tampa than from St. Petersburg to other places, and Tampa therefore became the travel hub for all of Florida.  The city’s status as the hub of commercial aviation and history of manufacturing transformed Tampa into a major shipping center.  Manufacturers began to base their businesses in Tampa to take advantage of the easy shipping.  Tourism to the area also greatly increased during and after the development of commercial aviation.  Therefore, Tony Jannus’ route led to Tampa becoming famous across the globe for all three industries: shipping, manufacturing, and tourism.

Tampa is still today the major shipping area for Florida by both air and sea.  The city has become a foreign trade zone, a center of free trade for many countries, especially those in Latin America.  Shipping has been growing by about 12% a year in the airport alone.  The Tampa International Airport also serves as the travel hub of Florida – people use the airport to visit many places in Florida, not just Tampa.  Therefore, many tourist-driven regions in Florida owe their success to Tampa’s airport and Tony Jannus.  Tourism has also become a large part of Tampa’s economy – seventeen million people visited Hillsborough County and spent more than three billion dollars in our community in 2011 alone.  Fifty thousand local jobs are tied directly to the entertainment and service needs of these tourists.

An example of how commercial aviation has greatly contributed to the Tampa Bay area’s economy is the 2012 Republican National Convention that was held in Tampa.  The Tampa International Airport alone received about 60,000 extra passengers who traveled to the area due the convention. That means that 60,000 people not only utilized the airport, but they also visited restaurants in and out of the airport, visited tourist attractions, and used the same or another airport to leave.  Also, because thousands of people came to Tampa for the convention, security for the airports, restaurants, some businesses, and the Republican National Convention itself had to be increased, generating thousands of temporary jobs in security alone. If the aviation industry had not become such a success, if Tony Jannus didn’t make that historic flight, most likely only a tiny fraction of those 60,000 people would have visited Tampa during 2012.

Tony Jannus’ airboat route was extremely instrumental in the success and development of Tampa and St. Petersburg.  Tampa has become a manufacturing and shipping giant with a large amount of tourism contributing to its economy.  St. Petersburg, however, has become a tourist destination and has experienced an exponential population growth.  Of course, his achievement in commercial aviation not only affected the growth of our local cities in a positive way, but it  also transformed modern transportation on a national and international scale, changing the globe as we know it.  Today’s worldwide tourism, trade and security industries all depend on the speed, ease and wide accessibility of commercial air travel.  Tony Jannus, a true aviation hero, not only laid the initial foundation for commercial aviation; he also initialized the framework for our modern day global transportation system and its effects on our worldwide economy.