Why does the name “Pan Am” still resonate more than a quarter-century after the company’s 1991 demise? The airline got its start in 1927, when the brilliant Juan Trippe, already experienced with running various charter companies, merged his group with two others to create Pan American Airways and establish a mail route between Key West and Havana, Cuba. With this act, writes historian Ron Davies, Trippe “embarked on a career that was, within barely a single decade, to build on a 90-mile route to Cuba to fashion the largest and most influential airline in the world.” The company would go on to connect South America and the United States by air; establish commercial routes across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans; and create the jet age as we know it.
Just in time for the 90th anniversary of Pan Am’s founding, two wonderful books have been published that document the airline’s history and legacy. The first, Pan Am: History, Design & Identity (Callisto Publishers), is a breathtaking, oversized coffee table book, beautifully designed and featuring more than 900 illustrations. The $900 book (yes, you read that right) explores Pan Am’s publicity, advertising, and design strategies, including examples of brochures, posters, and other advertising materials. As publisher Matthias Hühne writes in the preface, “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.” The book includes a collection of rare Pan Am posters that Hühne acquired in 2014; “along with other promotional materials, they shed light on historic concepts of travel and technological process.”
The second book, Pan Am—Personal Tributes, compiled by Jeff Kriendler and James Patrick Baldwin (Pan Am Historical Foundation), is just that: An insider’s look at the airline from those who worked there. In addition to a history of Pan Am (which you’d expect) the book also includes the esoteric: an interview with artist Milton Hebald, who sculpted the 15-foot bronze signs of the zodiac that graced the façade of the Pan Am building at JFK; a reminiscence from an employee who worked at Pan Am’s Counter Vanderbilt, the largest ticket counter in the world; and a mournful remembrance from a flight attendant who flew aboard the White House press charter the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Readers will learn about flights behind the Iron Curtain and Pan Am rescues of American citizens stranded by wars, revolutions, and earthquakes. The airline even had a waiting list for passengers interested in future trips to the moon. (More than 200 people were issued “First Moon Flights” Club membership cards, one of which is reproduced in the book.)
To see just a few highlights from Pan Am’s long history, see the slideshow below.