Biographical / Historical
William John Eck (1876-1957) graduated from Iowa State University in 1895 with a degree in electrical engineering and went to work in the telephone industry. In 1898, at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Eck joined the United States Army and was sent to the Philippines; after a year Eck transferred to the U.S. Quartermaster Department and spent his next three years at sea, eventually making a trip around the world. After leaving the Army, Eck switched to the railroad business, joining the Southern Railway in 1905. Over time, travel—particularly air travel—became a serious hobby for Eck, and by the early 1930s, he had become a pioneer passenger on several early airline routes. In 1931, after chatting to Pan American Airways (PAA) pilots on a flight to Santiago, Chile, Eck contacted PAA to apply for a ticket on PAA's first transatlantic passenger flight, whenever that might occur. Eight years later, Eck was delighted to be contacted by PAA with the news that he had been designated Passenger No. 1 on the historic flight, departing Port Washington, New York, on Wednesday, June 28, 1939, aboard the Boeing Model 314 "Dixie Clipper." The flight, carrying 22 passengers, was made via Horta, Azores, with an overnight stay at Lisbon, Portugal, on June 29, finishing at Marseille, France, on June 30. Eck continued on to Paris via a land-based Air France flight. Eck and many of the outbound passengers were also on the return flight of the "Dixie Clipper," departing Marseilles on Sunday, July 2, and following the same route to return to New York on Tuesday, July 4, 1939. At the time of the flight Eck, a resident of Washington, D. C., was Assistant to the Vice President, Southern Railway Company. The newspapers noted that Eck, a widower who had recently married his second wife, Emily Magdalene Kleb, three months earlier on March 20, 1939, was unable to take her along on the flight as he had only the single ticket bought well before their marriage.