Airmails of the United States

Airmails of the United States

, and afforded any then existing class or sub-class of U.S. Air Mail service.

Domestic U.S. Air Mail was established as a new class of mail service by the United States Post Office Department on May 15, 1918, with the inauguration of the Washington-Philadelphia-New York route. Air Mail as a distinct service was effectively ended within the United States on October 10, 1975, however, when all domestic intercity First Class mails began to be transported by air whenever practical and/or expeditious at the normal First Class rate. Domestic Air Mail as a separate class of service (and its rate structure) was formally eliminated by the the successor to the Post Office Department, the United States Postal Service (USPS) on May 1, 1977. [ [ "The History of Postage Rates in the United States"] ]

When the USPS began to service all international First Class mails by air without additional charge in 1995 and simultaneously eliminated Surface (or "Sea") service which porvided transportation by ship, it also announced that the words "Air Mail" would no longer appear on any U.S. postage stamps. [ [ Baadke, Michael "Airmail stamps fulfill various postage rates" Linn's Stamp News] ] While the USPS no longer offers traditional letter Air Mail, it does provide various classes of "premium" domestic and international business, priority, and express Air Mail services with guaranteed delivery times at much higher rates. [ [ USPS Rates for Domestic and International Services] ]

In June 2006 the USPS formally trademarked "Air Mail" (two words with capital first letters) along with Pony Express. [cite web | title = U.S. Postal Service Expands Licensing Program | work = News Release #06-043 | publisher = USPS | date = 2006-06-20 | url = | accessdate = 2008-07-18 ]

Experimental Air Mails

During the first aerial flight in North America by balloon on January 9, 1793, from Philadelphia to Deptford, New Jersey, Jean-Pierre Blanchard carried a personal letter from George Washington to be delivered to the owner of whatever property Blanchard happened to land on, making the flight the first delivery of air mail in the United States. [cite web | title = Jean Pierre Blanchard: Made First U.S. Aerial Voyage in 1793 | publisher = | url = | accessdate = 2008-07-16] [cite web | title = Jean Pierre François Blanchard | publisher = U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission | url = | accessdate = 2008-07-16]

John Wise piloted an unofficial balloon post flight that took place on July 17, 1859 from St. Louis, USA to Henderson, New York, a distance of 1,290 km [Smith (1942), p. 51] on which he carried a mailbag entrusted to him by the American Express Company. [Allaz (2005), p. 14] One month later, on August 17, Wise flew from Lafayette, Indiana to Crawfordsville, Indiana and carried 123 letters and 23 circulars onboard that had been collected by the postmaster Thomas Wood and endorsed "PREPAID" but only one of these historic postal covers was discovered in 1957. [Mackay (1971), pp. 17–18] In 1959 the United States Postal Service issued a 7 cent stamp (C-54) commemorating Wise's flight in the "Jupiter". [cite web | title = 'Stamps Take Flight' exhibit from Postmaster General's Collection showcases world's rarest 'uncollectibles' at National Postal Museum | work = Press release | publisher = USPS | date = 2005-04-06 | url = | accessdate = 2008-07-04] Balloon mail was also carried on an 1877 flight in Nashville, Tennessee.

USPOD sponsored experiments

The first official experiment at flying Air Mail to be made under the aegis of the United States Post Office Department took place on September 23, 1911, on the first day of an International Air Meet sponsored by The Nassau Aviation Corporation of Long Island, when pilot Earle L. Ovington flew 640 letters and 1,280 postcards from the Aero Club of New York's airfield located on Nassau Boulevard near Garden City (Long Island), NY, to nearby Mineola located less than six miles away. After being duly sworn in by U.S. Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock as the first U.S. Air Mail pilot in history, Ovington took off in his own American-made Bleriot Queen tractor-type monoplane, "Dragonfly," at 5:26 PM and dropped the bag of mail over Mineola six minutes later from an altitude of 500 feet. Unfortunately the bag broke when it hit the ground, but all of the mail was eventually recovered and forwarded by regular channels with the cancellation reading "AEROPLANE STATION No.1 - GARDEN CITY ESTATES, N.Y." [ [ "FLIGHT INTO HISTORY: EARLE OVINGTON WAS FIRST" Air Mail Pioneers] ]

cheduled Air Mails

U.S. Government flown Air Mail

The first scheduled U.S. Air Mail service began on May 15, 1918, using U.S Army Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny" biplanes operating on a route between Washington, D.C. (Washington Polo Grounds) and New York City (Belmont Park) with an intermediate stop in Philadelphia (Bustleton Field). Among those who were on hand for the departure of the first flight from Washington, D.C., were President Woodrow Wilson, U.S. Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson, and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt. Army Lt. George L. Boyle was selected to pilot aircraft #38262 on the first Northbound flight which, unfortunately, turned out to be a somewhat less than successful initial venture.

Almost immediately after taking off at 11:47AM, Boyle became disoriented and started flying South when he followed the wrong set of railroad tracks out of the city. Realizing that he was lost, Boyle attempted to find out where he was by making an unscheduled landing just 18 minutes later at 12:05PM in Waldorf, MD, about 25 miles South of the city. Unfortunately, however, he broke the prop on his airplane when he made a hard landing, so the 140 pounds of mail he was carrying had to be trucked back to Washington from where it was finally flown North to Philadelphia and New York the following day. ["Air-Mail System Runs True to Schedule, Except for Mishap at Washington End", The Philadelphia PUBLIC-LEDGER, May 16, 1918] The site of the first continuously scheduled air mail service is marked by a [ plaque] in West Potomac Park in Washington, D.C.. On June 4, 1918, service on the route was extended to Boston.

The original Air Mail letter rate per ounce between any two points on the route when service began on May 15 was 24 cents per ounce apportioned at two cents for postage, 12 cents for air service, and 10 cents for Special Delivery. On July 15 the rate was dropped to 16 cents of the first ounce and 6 cents for each additional ounce, and on December 15 the rate was dropped again to 6 cents per ounce when Special Delivery was made optional. [ [ "Postage Stamps of the United States First Issued in 1918"] ]

Transcontinental Air Mail

Scheduled Transcontinental Air Mail service flown between New York (Hazelhurst Field, L.I.) and San Francisco (Crissy Field) began on September 8, 1920, over a route laid out in July and August by Eddie Rickenbacker and Bert Acosta who had helped pilot the first experimental [ through flight] carrying about 100 letters which landed at Durant Field located at 82nd Ave and E. 14th St. in East Oakland. The transcontinental mails were originally flown only during daylight hours while being entrained at night, although on February 22, 1921, a nighttime leg on this route (Omaha to Chicago) was flown for the first time with James Knight as the pilot. The first daily Transcontinental Air Mail service involving both day and night flying over the entire route was opened on July 1, 1924, which reduced the time of the trip from more than 70 hours to a schedule of 34 hours 46 minutes Westbound, and 32 hours 3 minutes Eastbound.. In addition to New York and San Francisco, the route included thirteen intermediate stops where mails were exchanged and aircrew relieved. This was accomplished at airfields located at Bellefonte (PA), Cleveland (OH), Bryan, (OH), Chicago (IL), Iowa City (IA), Omaha (NE), North Platte (NE), Cheyenne (WY), Rawlins (WY), Rock Springs (WY), Salt Lake City (UT), Elko (NV), and Reno (NV). [ [ U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission "The Post Office Flies the Mail, 1918-1924"] ]

The conversion to commercially flown Air Mail

to contract with commercial air carriers to survey, establish, and operate service over a variety of designated new routes many of which connected with the already existing Government operated Transcontinental Air Mail route between New York and San Francisco. Contracts based on competitive bids for the first five routes were awarded in October, 1925, with operators originally to be compensated "at a rate not to exceed four-fifths of the revenue derived from the Air Mail." (The was changed on July 1, 1926, to a rate based on the total weight of the mails carried on each flight.) As of September 1, 1927, all U.S. Air Mail routes (including the previously Government operated Transcontinental Route) were being flown under contact by commercial carriers. [Glines, Carroll V. "The Saga of the Air Mail" (1980) Ayer Publishing ISBN:0405122136]

Beginning Contract Air Mail (CAM) service

The first two commercial Contract Air Mail (CAM) routes to begin operation in the United States were CAM-6 between Detroit (Dearborn) and Cleveland and CAM-7 between Detroit (Dearborn) and Chicago which were simultaneously inaugurated on February 15, 1926. The contractor for both routes was the Ford Motor Company, operating as Ford Air Transport, using a fleet of six Ford built [ Stout 2-AT] aircraft. [ Lawrence G. Fritz] , later the Vice President for Operations for TWA, was the pilot of the first flight to take off with mail from Ford Airport at Dearborn, MI, on the CAM-6 eastbound leg to Cleveland. [ [ CAM Contract Air Mail First Flights CAM-6] ] [ [ CAM Contract Air Mail First Flights CAM-7] ]


Operated by Varney Air Lines (which later became part of United Airlines), the first Eastbound flight over CAM-5 was made successfully using a "Laird Swallow" biplane piloted by Leon D. Cuddeback. The first Westbound flight that afternoon was much less successful, however, as it was forced 75-miles off course by a storm enroute from Elko to Boise before making a forced landing near Jordan Valley, Oregon. The plane and pilot Franklin Rose remained missing for two days until Rose managed to reach a telephone on April 8 after carrying the 98 pounds of mail for many miles on foot and on a horse borrowed from a farmer. The Westbound flown mail finally arrived at the Post Office in Pasco late in the morning of April 9, three days after leaving Elko. [The Pasco (WA) "Herald" (Newspaper), "Air Mail Jubilee Attracted Thousands of Visitors to Pasco" April 8, 1926, p. 1] [ Oberst, Walter A. "Railroads, Reclamation And the River: A History of Pasco" (Pasco: Franklin County Historical Society, 1978)] [ [ CAM Contract Air Mail First Flights CAM-5] ]

On April 15, 1926, the third route to open (CAM-2) began operation with pilot Charles A. Lindbergh at the controls on the first flight. In October 1925, Lindbergh was hired by the Robertson Aircraft Corporation in St. Louis, MO, (were he had been working as a flight instructor) to first lay out, and then serve as chief pilot for the newly designated 278-mile CAM-2 to provide service between St. Louis and Chicago (Maywood Field) with two intermediate stops in Springfield and Peoria, Illinois. Operating from Robertson's home base at the Lambert-St. Louis Flying Field in Anglum, Missouri, Lindbergh and three other RAC pilots he selected (Philip R. Love, Thomas P. Nelson, and Harlan A. "Bud" Gurney) flew the mail over CAM-2 in a fleet of four modified war surplus de Havilland DH-4 biplanes. [The St. Louis "POST-DISPATCH" (Newspaper) April 16, 1926, p. 1] [ [ CAM Contract Air Mail First Flights CAM-2] ] A little more than a year later Lindbergh was catapulted from being an otherwise obscure 25-year old Air Mail pilot to virtual instantaneous world fame when he successfully piloted the Ryan NYP single engine monoplane "Spirit of St. Louis" on the first non-stop flight from New York to Paris in May, 1927.

A total of 34 Contract Air Mail routes would eventually be established in the US between February 15, 1926, and October 25, 1930, however with the so-called "Air Mail Scandal" in 1934 the USPOD cancelled all the contracts on February 9, 1934, which resulted in the suspension of commercial CAM service effective February 19, 1934. [ [ CAM (Contract Air Mail) First Flights - Index] ]

Post War

In the 1950s, general enthusiasm for rockets led to experiments with rocket mail. There was a single use of Missile Mail by the United States in 1959; see: USS Barbero. None of the various schemes went into production use, although many souvenir covers exist. A number of spacecraft have also carried space mail, sometimes in rather large quantities, all for promotional purposes.


ee also

*Air Mail Scandal
*Nellie Brimberry
*United States Postal Service



* Richard McP. Cabeen, "Standard Handbook of Stamp Collecting" (Collectors Club, 1979), pp. 207-221

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