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Half a century or so ago, when Don Draper types were crafting stunning commercial-airline art and seat 3B was a place to be seen, flying was considered to be the height of glamour. There was a style, aesthetic and an overall cool factor to being up in the air that was almost entirely thanks to the beautiful print ads that perfectly targeted the who’s who of society.
The art direction, beautiful design and inspiring imagery of yesteryear still hold up today. These nostalgic vintage ads are documented wonderfully in Matthias C. Hühne’s book “Airline Visual Identity 1945 – 1975,” with the large-format collection reproducing the most visually interesting commercial art from the golden age of flying and documented in what the publisher calls a “museum-like experience.”
Featuring chapters dedicated to every major airline, crystal-clear airline advertising posters, breakdowns of how the art has evolved over time and plenty of commentary on how advertising and airlines converged at the perfect time, this is a solid coffee table book for any person with a constant case of wanderlust and an appreciation for good design.
Though print advertising is all but dead and being on an airplane is as prosaic as jumping in an Uber, it’s hard not to wish travel-focused messaging still felt a little more like this. Here’s a look at a handful of Pan Am’s most iconic print ads through its glory years, all of which can also be seen in the book.
A Look Inside
The Bicentennial Exposition referenced in this ad was the 200th anniversary celebration of the founding of Port-au-Prince, the capital city of Haiti. It was also known as the “Festival of Peace.”
Featuring a classic red double decker London bus and the Memorial Fountain Statue of Anteros at Piccadilly Circus, this ad is pure mid-century modern cool.
A Geisha clad in a traditional kimono stars in this advertisement highlighting Japan.
In 1949, it took four and a half hours to get from Miami to Haiti. Now? Just under two.
Before Helvetica was popularized by Apple, American Apparel and graphic designers everywhere, Pan Am used it in an iconic ad series highlighting hot spots around the world.
The contemporary minimalism shows just how ahead of the curve Pan Am was from a branding and creative perspective.
Pan Am also made very interesting photography choices. Instead of a glamorous shot of Los Angeles or New York to highlight the United States, designers put a stunning desert on display.
Here, Panama’s coastal beauty is shown off.
And here, Hawaiian surfers wait for a wave in this low-key advertisement.
It was never about catchy taglines or loud price savings announcements. Pan Am constantly did more with less and let beautiful photography speak for itself.
This stylized illustrated map shows all the various destinations Pan Am flights could take you to.
Likely the most iconic of all of Pan Am’s ads, reprints of this ’50s poster can still be seen in many bedrooms today, with originals highly sought after on eBay.
A perfect capture of glamour and style, this ad highlights both the magic and speed of flying.
A waiter hands a French policeman a beer in this stylish ad that may or may not have accurately depicted the law enforcement of yesteryear.
An elephant and archer are highlighted in this illustrated snapshot of mid-century Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam.
Hawaiian surfers link hands in this beautifully minimal ad with great typography.
Which of these vintage Pan Am posters is your favorite?
Featured image courtesy of Callisto Publishers.
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