By the end of WWII, Pan American World Airways’ infamous fleet of flying boats became rapidly obsolete as the aviation industry transitioned to landplanes and as more runways were built. Increasing demand for air travel led to continual aeronautical innovations, many of which were established or introduced by Pan Am. Their constant modernization not only transformed commercial aviation, but impacted the world socially, politically, and economically, thereby changing world culture forever. Whereas in its early days, the company had focused on connecting the world through new air routes, their primary goal in later years would be to carry even more people and do it bigger, better, and faster than ever before. Truly, Pan Am helped “shrink the world.”
Consequently, the speed of life was moving at a sonic pace: sociopolitical developments impacted airlines, Pan Am in particular, ultimately setting the company on a crash course with insolvency in 1991. The decades following WWII were tumultuous to say the least, characterized by both rapid economic growth and instability, many technological advances, more foreign wars, and the emergence of social justice movements such as feminism, civil rights, and environmental concerns.
This primary source set uses advertisements, cultural artifacts, and archival materials to demonstrate the seemingly symbiotic relationship between commercial aviation and globalization. As we navigate through these historical artifacts, what observations can be made? In a world that very much relies on aviation to advance its agenda, what lessons can be gleaned that may still be relevant today?
Reflect on these questions as you review the following source set. For further study, these objects and many other aviation-related materials may all be found in the Cleared for Takeoff: Explore Commercial Aviation portal.