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Flights of fancy: myth, monopoly and the making of Pan American Airways

Gabrielle Durepos (Sobey School of Business, Saint Mary's University, Halifax, Canada)
Jean Helms Mills (Sobey School of Business, Saint Mary's University, Halifax, Canada)
Albert J. Mills (Sobey School of Business, Saint Mary's University, Halifax, Canada)

Journal of Management History

ISSN: 1751-1348

Article publication date: 11 April 2008

Abstract

Purpose

Between 1927 and 1941 Pan American Airways (PAA) operated international flights from the USA with virtually no competition from US carriers. How PAA established and maintained its monopolistic position – by instrumentally creating a myth of “German threat” – and the implications for organizational theorizing and historiography is the proposed focus of this paper.

Design/methodology/approach

Drawing on a cultural theory approach to “doing history” and Barthes' 1972 notion of myth, this paper uses a critical hermeneutical exploration of the extensive PAA archive collection (at the Otto Richter Library of the University of Miami) and numerous secondary sources (e.g. various written histories). Following Barthes, the paper views myths as monolithic and authoritative historical constructions which conceal their ideological roots and instrumental conditions of creation. Through critical hermeneutics, the paper deciphers the myth of “German threat” by (re)contextualizing it and thus pluralizing history by showing how a threatening image of “foreign” and specifically “German” aviation operation in South America was instrumentally created to privilege PAA's operations and its close relationship with the US State Department.

Findings

Implications for the management theorist and historian as they pertain to a more fragile tone for “doing history” include the acknowledgement of history as multiple socially constructed interpretations of the past, an appreciation for histories that make their conditions of production transparent and the need for (re)writing histories that parade as authoritative monoliths.

Originality/value

The paper offers an empirical example of how an organization's instrumental use of myth facilitates manipulations of history in order to situate and secure the positioning and image of that organization.

Keywords

Citation

Durepos, G., Helms Mills, J. and Mills, A.J. (2008), "Flights of fancy: myth, monopoly and the making of Pan American Airways", Journal of Management History, Vol. 14 No. 2, pp. 116-127. https://doi.org/10.1108/17511340810860249

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited