But its beginnings were relatively humble, as was the first-ever Pan Am logo – a circular, cluttered black and white image that was headed by the company’s full name, ‘Pan American Airways’
A tale that’s fraught with turbulence until the end.
Glamorous air hostesses, exotic ads, America’s earliest planes and one iconic logo.
Even though they ceased operation in 1991, everyone knows that Pan Am was not just an airline, but one of the best known airline’s in the world. They were massive. So big in fact that in 1970 alone their planes carried 11 million passengers to 86 countries worldwide. This may seem small compared to the record that Delta Airlines set in 1997 – they were the world’s first airline to board 100 million passengers in a single year.
But that was 1997. Of course, technology has changed a lot between 1970 and ’97. 11 million passengers set the bar for other airlines to beat. But that’s a small detail – Pan Am were heralded as the pioneer of multiple features in air travel. These included the widespread use of jet aircrafts, jumbo jets and innovative – especially for the time – computerised reservation systems.
The airline that’s synonymous with the blue globe brand mark – one of the most instantly recognisable and famous logos of all time, initially took off on 19 October, 1927. Yet in the years to come it would take off in more ways than one. Founded by two US Airforce Majors, it began life operating as an airmail service between Keywest in Florida and Havana, Cuba. And its success continued to grow considerably.
But its beginnings were relatively humble, as was the first ever logo – a circular, cluttered black and white image that was headed by the company’s full name, ‘Pan American Airways’ and featured a black arrow and the words Palm Beach – Miami, Key West and Havana. This was later simplified that same year to a flying blue arrow and the letters PAA, an abbreviation of Pan American Airways.
The shorter more succinct and aesthetically pleasing PAA abbreviation remained until the airline’s demise. But it would go through a number of brandmarks before then – six in total. Pre second world war, Pan Am ruled the skies. But post war it had plenty of rivals, such as TWA, Braniff, United and Northwest Orient. The plane game was getting evermore competitive. Yet – for a short time at least – America’s favourite airline kept up with its competitors through rigorous employee training and glamorous advertising.
The ‘globe’ Pan Am logo was introduced in 1928 as part of what resembled of a wing, which became more detailed during the pre and post war era. It wasn’t until 1955 that the Pan Am brand mark with the blue sphere clearly representing the globe came into fruition. But then, life for Pan Am began to hit some turbulence between 1971-1973. It was during this time that the font and globe (which was now much noticeably smaller) changed dramatically.
This was the lead up to the year that began Pan Am’s downfall – 1973. The notorious oil strike was largely to blame – where over-priced petrol had to be rationed. The company wasn’t to know about the predicament and in order to keep up with its ever-growing amount of competitors had only just purchased a fleet of Boeing 747s. Timing couldn’t have been worse. And Pan Am never really recovered financially.
As part of a vain attempt to save its soul and reputation, the company updated its logo again – this logo was similar in so many ways to the 1957 brandmark, when things were going well for the aviation giants. Maybe they thought it could bring some hope or good omens? However, the final nail in the coffin was soon to be struck.
Pan Am flight 103 was targeted by a terrorist’s bomb, and the plane plummeted to its untimely end on September 1988. The crash, which took place on a bleak, non-descript, solitary field somewhere in Scotland, killed all 270 people on-board, and even some local village residents. Shortly after, in 1991, Pan Am filed for bankruptcy. A tragic end to a tumultuous American legacy.
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