Design: Edward L. Barnes Assoc. (USA)
Pan American World Airways was founded in 1927 as a scheduled airmail and passenger service operating between Florida and Havana.
In 1958, Pan American’s traditional half-wing motif was replaced with a stylised globe – a symbol that consisted of a perfect circle intersected with curved parabolic lines. The new motif, devised by Joseph Montgomery of Edward L. Barnes Associates, sought to reflect the global scope of its routes at the dawn of the Jet Age – whilst also capturing the airflow patterns of high speed flight. The agency also truncated the corporate name to Pan Am, the company’s snappy nickname, and devised a distinctive wordmark, set in a ‘wind swept’ type-style, in the centre of the globe. Further impact came from the generous use of royal blue, and white as the base colour. The result was an extremely modern and sophisticated image.
In 1971, the airline turned to the celebrated design agency of Chermayeff & Geismar to rejuvenate their visual identity. In fact, a young Ivan Chermayeff was part of the original design team at Edward L. Barnes112. Aside from restyling the globe symbol, they introduced a new wordmark set in Helvetica.
For decades, Pan Am’s globe symbol became synonymous with the prestige and glamour of air travel. It was one of the world’s most recognised trademarks, on a par with Coca-Cola. According to official archives, it was the airline that helped define major events in the 20th century – “Pan Am brought The Beatles to New York, the troops to war and back, and the food to Berlin.”114 To many, a world without Pan Am was almost unimaginable. A futuristic vision of the air carrier was immortalised in two classic sci-fi movies: 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner.
However, the 1980s heralded the beginning of the end for Pan Am. The fuel crisis, the recession, the deregulation of the airline industry, and bad management all contributed to an already precarious financial situation. In addition, the tragedy at Lockerbie caused transatlantic passengers to steer towards other carriers. In 1991, Pan Am filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and made its final flight – bringing an inglorious end to a cultural and graphic design icon.