Albert Plesman – KLM’s enterprising (grand)father

It’s Father’s Day today, which means those of you who have fathers will probably be honouring him in some way. Many dads will be treated to breakfast in bed, often consisting of capsized cups of tea, soggy sandwiches and half-boiled eggs, all lovingly prepared, of course, with the noblest intentions. Which brings me to KLM’s own father: Albert Plesman.

Let me start by saying that the 600 words I have at my disposal are far too limited to tell his life story, let alone explain his significance to aviation in general and KLM in particular. He was simply too special. In 1919, the investors who established KLM approached Albert Plesman to supervise the airline’s day-to-day operations, which he did for more than three decades. When he passed away unexpectedly on 31 December 1953, he left behind a company that employed over 13,000 people, having started out with a staff that consisted of himself and three others.

Albert Plesman

Plesman was a visionary, whose ideas and predictions often proved to be accurate. It is a well-documented fact that Plesman generated a constant stream of ideas and expected people to pay heed immediately. Not all his ideas were equally realistic, but some were certainly feasible or proved to be feasible in the long-run, when technology caught up. He even envisaged a tunnel under the English Channel, which eventually materialised decades after his death.

Albert Plesman

Family man

Having read various articles, including personal accounts by people who were close to him, one may conclude that Plesman was a somewhat brusque, but also warm-hearted man. The latter applied for KLM, but certainly also for his family. He and his wife Suze had four children: three sons and a daughter, who regularly joined him on his visits to Schiphol and various other places. Tragically, two of his sons died at an early age in aviation-related accidents. His son Jan was killed in a battle between fighter aircraft over France in 1944, and his son Hans died when the KLM Constellation “Roermond” crashed off the coast of Bari, Italy.

Albert Plesman


In a book about her father, Plesman’s daughter Pia (1924-2000) recounts: “People sometimes ask: was your father very authoritarian at home? But that was never the case, for us. I was raised with a great deal of freedom. He was very idealistic at heart and often said: ‘It’s about the game, not the marbles. You need to give it all you’ve got and there can be only one winner.’ KLM was his child. He devoted his life to his work, but he remained a very cheerful father. He was always singing. Whenever we drove anywhere, we’d all sing along together. The first time my father met my future husband, he immediately asked: ‘Do you sing at all?’ So my husband sang a song, but only knew one line of the lyrics, prompting a further demand from my father: ‘I want to hear the whole song!’

Albert Plesman



Plesman regularly went abroad to meet business associates, negotiate with suppliers and explore the potential of new destinations. He loved being met at the airport, especially by his grandchildren. “He really was a family man,” according to his daughter. “If he had been away on a trip, he wanted to be picked up at the airport. Schiphol was still relatively small in those days. The customs officials knew the score. Anything was possible. He was crazy about his grandchildren. Maybe because he had lost two of his own children.”

Albert Plesman

Plesman lives on in street names and a multitude of photos, memorial plaques and busts that were made of him during his life and thereafter. The most important status is that which stands outside the former KLM headquarters in The Hague. His daughter Pia laid the first stone for the headquarters in 1939, and his grandson Jan Leendert laid a memorial stone in the new wing of this building on 4 May 1948. The statue of Plesman was made by Mari Andriessen and unveiled by Plesman’s oldest grandson on 1 October 1959, at a ceremony attended by the entire family as well as a large KLM delegation.

Having said all that, I have recounted only a small portion of the Plesman family history, proving my point that I would need a lot more space to do our (grand)father justice.

Posted by:   Frido Ogier  | 
Join the conversation Show comments

ingmar beldman

mooi en ontroerend verhaal! ‘it’s about the game and not the marbles’. Ondanks een veranderde wereld hoop ik dat de energie in die zin behouden blijft en beweging oplevert.

Frido Ogier

Beste Ingmar, dank voor je compliment! En wat de rest van je reactie betreft: dat hoop ik zeker ook! Het is en blijft een mooi bedrijf om voor te werken.

Hartelijke groet,


Awyong Leong Soo

Can you send me printed booklet about History of KLM, Inflight Magazine, Pilot Bear, KLM’s CAP (Big Size), KLM’s T-SHIRTS (size XXL only) in any designs & colours, Umbrellas, Backpack, KeyChain, Play Cards, KLM’s AIRBUS A330-300 or BOEING B747-400 of Aircrafts Model & KLM’s Company Business Card which I wanted to request for my school’s graphic design project do design culture of airlines history, magazines, corporate gifts design, stationery designs, aircraft livery designs, aircrafts model artwork & more…& then mail to: Mr. Awyong Leong Soo, Block 299 Bedok South Ave 3 #04-06 SINGAPORE 469298 SINGAPORE

Thank you!

penelope burreci

What a very interesting story about a man and his family who were totally devoted
to KLM and its future. Very inspirational. Great article.

Hans Peter Plesman

Very nice article about the life of my grandfather Dr. Albert Plesman.
My father Albert Plesman jr. always mentioned that his father always wanted the best out of his children .He was completely dedicated to his airline infact his legacy is still
within KLM with Boeing 777 that carries his name.
Three airplanes now have been named after him DC-8,Boeing 747 and now the Boeing 777.
KLM has been in business for 96 years my granfather was the leader of this company for over 34 years a really great achievement. regards, Hans Peter Plesman

Frido Ogier

Dear Hans Peter,

Thank you for your comment! It wasn’t easy to find a way writing a blog about your grandfather, so it was necessary to limit in the subjects. It’s very true that he was very dedicated to his airline. I’ve tried to put that in my blog. Nice to know you appreciated it.

Kind regards,


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