ABOUT THE POSTERS
Besides advertising in magazines and newspapers, display posters were the major form of promotion when Pan American Airways started in the late 1920s during the pre-TV, early years of commercial aviation. Despite the growth of radio and television advertising, airline travel posters endured throughout Pan Am’s entire commercial life, and played a prominent role in capturing the glamour and excitement of air travel to far-off destinations.
Pan Am’s posters tell the story of Pan American Airways / Pan American World Airways (1927-1991) from the 1920s to the 1980s. Through Pan Am’s posters, one sees the effort to pioneer commercial aviation, with Pan Am driving innovation from the 1920s into the 1970s. First with the flying "Clipper Ships" from the time before airstrips were common, which gave way to the DC-2 & DC-3 into the 1940s before WW2. Following WW2, the Stratocruiser led the way for Pan Am from 1949 through the1950s, until the start of the jet age in 1958 with the development and launch of the 707. Pan Am's drive for innovation ultimately produced the 747 and 'democratization' of air travel when the 747 launched in 1970. Ironically, the massive investment in the 747 coupled with the oil crisis of the early 1970s and lack of a US feeder network to help fill the 747s set the stage for the beginning of the end of Pan Am.
Through Pan Am's posters, one can follow the opening of air travel around the world, first with the Caribbean and South America in the late 1920s and 1930s, then across the Pacific in the late 1930s, then Europe, Africa and the Middle East just before and after World War II. Through Pan Am's posters, one also witnesses Pan Am's role in opening previously closed countries and markets, like Russia and China. A bilateral route between New York and Moscow was established in the late 1960s and a route to Beijing was opened in 1981 after nearly a decade of discussion, an early step towards opening China to the outside world. Finally, through the posters, one also sees the unwinding of Pan Am with a couple of Pan Am / United Airlines posters in the 1980s.
On this website, you will find approximately 800 different posters for Pan Am and its marketing partners and affiliates. Included in this catalog are approximately 700 different Pan Am posters, which include variations where the same poster art is reused with different text and taglines, including translated text. The ~700 Pan Am posters fall into 3 categories:
The largest category includes Pan Am posters that were conceived and designed by the Pan Am marketing department and advertising agencies, often with prominent artists and designers. As you will see below, these posters can be grouped into 20 distinct series, plus a bonus series call "The System of Flying Clippers."
Another significant group captures Pan Am posters that adopted already existing tourism poster art and then modified with Pan Am’s logos and taglines. These posters are grouped together as "Repurposed Tourism Posters."
The smallest category includes posters that were designed as part of a co-marketing or commercial sponsorship relationship. These category is grouped together as "Co-Marketing Posters."
As you get to know the posters that were designed by and through Pan Am’s marketing department, you will recognize many series. While there are no detailed records describing all of Pan Am's posters and the various series, most of Pan Am’s posters can be grouped into one of the following twenty series, listed chronologically:
Pan Am produced many posters throughout its history that don't naturally fit into one of the twenty series listed above. These posters are captured in an 'all other' grouping called "One-Off Pan Am Posters."
Throughout its history, Pan Am established or partnered with many affiliated airlines. The primary affiliates were Pan American-Grace Airways (Panagra), Panair do Brasil (Panair), Compania Mexicana de Aviacion (Mexicana or CMA) and China National Aviation Corp (CNAC). These affiliates were established in the 1920s-1930s and operated as affiliates into the 1940s-1960s. You will find many posters connected to affiliated airlines on this website.
When searching the internet for Pan Am posters, one will find images that look like Pan Am posters but are not. In some cases, images that appear to be posters, are actually from a Pan Am brochure or calendar. In other cases, contemporary artists developed poster art in the style of Pan Am vintage poster art. A good example of this is a Cuba poster designed by Kerne Erickson in the style of a 1930s Pan Am poster. Finally, there are a few potential posters that are questionable because they just "don’t fit" … either the logo is wrong for the era implied by the image, or the poster image doesn’t seem right e.g. a Brazil poster that has been attributed to Cardwell Higgins. These potential posters and "look alike" posters are captured in a grouping call "Pan Am "like" and unconfirmed Pan Am posters." Additional research is required to confirm the authenticity of these posters.
Lastly, Pan Am produced many maps throughout its history, mostly route maps capturing the far reaches of the Pan Am empire. A few maps in the 1930s and 1940s are truly works of art. A series of 1940s maps published with the 1945 calendar served to educate about the various Pan Am destinations in Central and South America. In the 1950s-70s, route maps were produced in many forms, primarily for folded brochures. Route maps were also produced for wall display, typically measuring 3 to 5 feet wide, but occasionally as large as 10 feet wide, designed to cover an entire wall.
While this website surely captures most of the Pan Am and affiliated posters ever produced, some are likely missing. If you know of a Pan Am poster that is not captured on the website, please send an email with image to: email@example.com.