The Original Jet-Setter: The World of Pan Am

A jumbo-sized design book explores why, long after the company's demise, its blue globe is still considered a pop culture icon.

Callisto Publishers GmbH
OF 13

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.

I still recall 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.

It all began in 1927, when Pan Am started as a tiny enterprise. With determination, foresight, and a good deal of ruthlessness to win over politicians and investors, as well as to outdo the competition, the company’s founder and CEO, Juan Trippe, established the world’s first truly global airline. Pan Am connected South America to the U.S. by air, initiated commercial flights across the Pacific and the Atlantic, set up one of the earliest international hotel chains (Intercontinental Hotels), and pioneered the use of the wide-bodied jumbo jet, which laid the foundation for mass transportation as we know it today.

Pan Am’s story also illustrates how commercial artists coped with this new mode of travel. French illustrator Jean Carlu, Mexican caricaturist Antonio Arias Bernal, and Norman Rockwell were among those commissioned to create brochures and advertising posters.

Remarkably, Pan Am’s symbolic power survives to the present day, long after its demise in 1991. Even in its final years, Pan Am never quite lost its magic: In 1989 Japan held its first international architectural competition. During his search for the ideal design for the Tokyo International Forum exhibition center, New York architect Rafael Viñoly decided to take a break and hopped a Pan Am flight to Paris. While dinner was being served, he gazed at the airline’s logo on the napkin and found a solution inspired by the blue globe. Viñoly won the competition, and the Tokyo International Forum remains his most critically acclaimed work.

Today that blue globe has taken on a life of its own. To some it connotes inspiration—the essence of a fantastic vision to shrink the planet. To others it’s a lifestyle symbol—a representation of the jet age, when for the first time it became possible to spend the weekend in Europe or to crisscross the entire world at unprecedented speed. 

Excerpted from the premium edition of Pan Am: History, Design & Identity, out in March from Callisto. The 432-page book includes additional images and is boxed in a handcrafted clamshell collector’s case made from acrylic glass in the distinctive Pan Am Blue. $900; callisto-publishers.com.

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