The Pan Am China Clipper's inaugural flight from Alameda to Manila carried only airmail, but from then on the 74 passenger flying ocean liner would take well-heeled travelers to destinations from Hawaii, to Hong Kong.
It was the beginning of commercial aviation across the Pacific.
Crowds came to Treasure Island to watch the departures.
"Those were the days, it was exciting, it really was first class," ABC7 aviation consultant Ron Wilson said.
The China Clipper was the first of three Martin M-130 flying boats ordered by Pan Am. The first leg of the cross-Pacific trip was a 17 hour flight to Honolulu. Along the way, passengers enjoyed white linen dining and sleeping berths. It was not inexpensive, about $380 at the time or $9,000 one-way today.
China Clipper service ended in 1945 when it crashed in Trinidad. Sixteen passengers and nine crew members died in the crash.
A propeller is all that is left of any of the M-130s. It is on display with other Clipper memorabilia at the SFO aviation history museum. There is a similar aircraft at the Oakland aviation museum.
SFO begins a week-long celebration of the China Clipper Tuesday.