The Dawn of Airmail in America: A Journey from the 1910s to the 1930s in Photos

The early 20th century marked the beginning of a new era in mail delivery in the United States – the age of airmail. This period, spanning from the 1910s to the 1930s, saw significant developments in the way mail was transported, revolutionizing communication across vast distances.

The idea of using aircraft for mail delivery in the U.S. began to take shape in the 1910s. Initially, these were isolated experiments rather than part of a coordinated postal service. One notable instance was in 1911, during an aviation meet in Long Island, where a pilot named Earle Ovington was sworn in as the first airmail pilot and flew a bag of mail from Garden City to Mineola, New York.

The outbreak of World War I accelerated the development of aviation technology. Although the war primarily took place in Europe, the advancements made had a significant impact on the feasibility of airmail in the United States.

The 1920s: Establishing Routes and Expanding the Network

The first regular airmail service in the U.S. began on May 15, 1918, between Washington, D.C., and New York City, with a stop in Philadelphia. This service used army pilots and was a collaboration between the U.S. Post Office and the U.S. Army. This initial route laid the groundwork for regular civilian airmail service.

Throughout the 1920s, airmail routes expanded rapidly. The service extended westward, and by 1920, transcontinental mail flights became a reality, significantly reducing the time it took to send mail across the country.

A major development in the 1920s was the introduction of night flying. This was facilitated by the construction of a system of beacons and lighted airfields. The introduction of this system was pivotal in enabling 24-hour transcontinental airmail service, which commenced in 1924.

The 1930s: The Golden Age of Airmail

The 1930s saw further advances in aircraft technology, making planes faster, more reliable, and capable of carrying more mail. This period also witnessed the introduction of all-metal airplanes, which were more durable and efficient.

In 1925, the Kelly Act (also known as the Contract Air Mail Act) was passed, allowing the Post Office to contract private airlines to carry airmail. This act led to the creation of several private airlines and was a significant step toward the commercial airline industry’s development in the U.S.

The Great Depression of the 1930s had a mixed impact on the airmail service. While it strained the financial resources available, the need for swift communication made airmail an essential service, and efforts to maintain and improve it continued.

#1 Inauguration of U.S. airmail service, May 15, 1918.

#2 JR-1B mail airplane by Standard Aircraft Corporation, Dec. 31, 1918.

#5 New York City Postmaster Thomas G. Patten with pilot Lt. Torrey Webb, 1918.

#8 Unloading Airmail in Omaha, Nebraska, July 1, 1924.

#9 De Havilland airmail plane and U.S. mail truck, 1922.

#12 Airmail loading for transcontinental flight, July 29, 1920.

#14 Airmail pilot Eddie Gardner with reporter Muriel Kelly, Aug. 30, 1920.

#17 Airmail pilot James Hill, transcontinental night flight, July 1, 1925.

#18 Airmail pilot Lloyd Bertaud with unidentified individual, Sept. 6, 1927.

#19 Airmail pilot Lt. James Edgerton with his sister, May 18, 1918.

#20 Airmail pilot Paul Collins with first overnight mail bag, July 1, 1925.

#22 Airmail pilots Edison Mouton and Rexford Levisee, 1921.

#28 Airmail plane in front of Omaha, Nebraska hangar, 1927.

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Written by Sarah Johnson

Sarah Johnson is a freelance writer and photographer with a passion for exploring the world. Her writing is both informative and engaging, offering unique perspectives on travel, food, and lifestyle.

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