There is some conflicting information around when it comes to who designed the iconic Pan Am logo. Names from Ivan Chermayeff to Saul Bass to Charles Forberg and Edward Larrabee Barnes are all bandied about with some authority.
Regular readers will know it wasn’t Saul Bass, as his airline logos have been covered by me previously. The other three pop up quite regularly and clearly there is just one truth.
Pan Am Logo Design
Affectionately referred to as the Pan Am meatball, the famous blue and white logo first appeared in 1955 and was designed by Charles Forberg and Edward Larrabee Barnes.
At one time, this was the most recognised logo in the world, thanks to Pan Am’s global route network. Today it is still familiar to many who remember the golden age of aviation and it still lives on at Pan Am Railways.
But What About Chermayeff?
There is also truth behind Ivan Chermayeff being credited for the design, however he enters the story much later. In 1971, Chermayeff and Geismar, a New York graphic design firm, was contracted to update Pan Am for the 1970s. The airline was struggling to make money and it was thought refreshing what had become a stuffy brand would help.
Helvetica font, the Pan Am logo and a stock image were used for a series of posters. You can read a fascinating article about this flirtation with a modern look in the article “Flight of the Imagination” from Eye Magazine, which also goes into why the carrier reverted to the previous look relatively quickly.
When it comes to finding out who designed what, it is always worth doing a little digging. Even the New York Times originally got it wrong in Ivan Chermayeff’s obituary, saying he had designed the Pan Am logo when in actual fact, he had not.
Thinking about it, I wonder which of the airline logos of today will end up being considered icons in decades to come. None really spring immediately to mind to me and that is a bit of a shame.
What do you think of the Pan Am logo? Did you know who the designer was and have you ever flown Pan Am? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.