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Pan Am: History, Design and Identity

Chris Dickman Wed, 11/30/2016 - 08:47

Pan Am: History, Design & Identity
By M. C. Hühne
Callisto Publishing
432 pages, $70


Pan Am’s pioneering role in commercial flight is well known around the world. For decades, the aviation industry and its customers profited from the airline’s visionary ideas and technological innovations. Remarkably, Pan Am’s symbolic power survives to the present day, long after its demise in 1991. An analysis of this unique phenomenon is the substance of this book.

It all began in 1927, when Pan Am started as a tiny enterprise. With determination, foresight and a good deal of the ruthlessness required to win over politicians and investors, as well as to outdo the competition, the company’s founder and chief executive Juan Terry Trippe (1899–1981) established the world’s first truly global airline. His strategic brilliance becomes apparent in the company’s many pioneering accomplishments and is evident throughout this volume: Pan Am connected South America by air to the United States, initiated commercial flights across the Pacific and the Atlantic, set up one of the earliest international hotel chains, pushed the world into the jet age, introduced computerized reservation systems, and pioneered the use of the wide-bodied jumbo jets that laid the foundation for mass air transportation as we know it today.

To illuminate the relationship between Pan Am’s activities and their reception by the public in America and around the world, the following chapters review the essence of the airline’s history while at the same time exploring its publicity, advertising and design strategies. Here, too, Pan Am left nothing to chance. Throughout most of its existence, the airline ingeniously leveraged the fundamental allure of its business and thus attracted a much wider audience than just the customers and policy makers it had aimed to reach.

Each segment of the book includes photographs that complement the text and reflect the atmosphere of the time, followed by a selection of promotional materials such as brochures, posters, advertisements and other items that a passenger may have encountered before or during a journey with Pan Am. The illustrations provide insight into the different designs and methods from the late 1920s to the late 1980s, and highlight the shifting focus of Pan Am’s campaigns and the evolution of its corporate design strategies. Early advertising targeted wealthy, adventure-seeking travelers. After World War II, air transportation grew rapidly as larger and more efficient aircraft were introduced. Advertising and publicity reacted accordingly, targeting ever new segments of the population. In the 1950s and 1960s, comprehensive corporate design programs became popular, and Pan Am was an influential early adopter of such an approach.

Boarding a Sikorsky S-4, 1932. © Callisto Publishers GmbH

Sadly, much of the background material on many campaigns and designs has been lost. Obtaining a pertinent selection of visual materials, too, proved to be challenging. Up to the spring of 2014, it was unclear whether suitable sources could be found for all the images I wanted to include. By chance, I learned of the sale of a unique collection of rare Pan Am posters that had taken decades to assemble, and I immediately decided to acquire almost the entire collection. Combined with the images available from a number of other important sources, from that point onward there was a realistic path to completing this book. All images were digitally restored where necessary and carefully reproduced true to the originals using the latest printing technology. Posters have become an eminent part of this book. For most of the period covered, they represented an essential element of the airline industry’s advertising.

Posters are complex visual messengers that are useful for tracing a company’s design strategies and marketing goals. Along with the other promotional materials they shed light on historic concepts of travel and technological progress, and, seen in conjunction with the text, they are significant cultural artifacts. The visual material bears witness to history, documenting economic and social changes through the company’s advertising activities. The detailed synopsis of the Pan Am saga presented in the following chapters may appear atypical for a book that claims to focus on corporate identity, but it is a prerequisite for understanding why the company continues to fascinate people around the world today.

Naturally, many books and other sources were consulted in compiling this volume, and there were numerous contributors (see references and acknowledgements at the end of this book). For additional reading, I would like to recommend the following publications: Robert Daley’s An American Saga: Juan Trippe and His Pan Am Empire, Jenifer van Vleck’s Empire of the Air: Aviation and the American Ascendancy, R.E.G Davies’ Pan Am: An Airline and its Aircraft, Gregory Crouch’s China’s Wings, and Building for Air Travel: Architecture and Design for Commercial Aviation, edited by John Zukowsky.

It is my sincere hope that this book treats Pan Am’s legacy with the respect it deserves and, above all, that it keeps alive an active interest in this exceptional company. While my purpose in initiating this project was to document and analyze corporate identity aspects of Pan Am, I still recall very well the awe I felt when, as a young German boy in 1974, I entered a Pan Am Boeing 747 on my first flight to the United States. Everything seemed so perfect. The huge aircraft and the friendly, beautiful flight attendants appeared like a showpiece of the American Dream, flying around the globe, a gentle demonstration of the values and opportunities brought about by freedom and entrepreneurship.

Matthias C. Hühne

Pan Am poster, 1938. © Callisto Publishers GmbH

Pan Am poster, 1940. © Callisto Publishers GmbH

Pan Am poster, 1940. © Callisto Publishers GmbH

Pan Am poster, 1947. © Callisto Publishers GmbH

Pan Am poster, 1947. © Callisto Publishers GmbH

Pan Am poster, 1947. © Callisto Publishers GmbH

Pan Am poster, 1950. © Callisto Publishers GmbH
Pan Am poster, 1959. © Callisto Publishers GmbH

Pan Am poster, 1960. © Callisto Publishers GmbH

© 2016 Callisto Publishers GmbH, Berlin, Germany. This excerpt was reproduced with the permission of the publisher.

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