Image (above): Curtiss Jenny carrying mail for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, takes off from the polo grounds near the Potomac River in Washington, DC
The United States Post Office Department created the nation’s commercial aviation industry. From 1918 to 1927, the Post Office Department built and operated the nation’s airmail service, establishing routes, testing aircraft and training pilots. When the Department turned the service over to private contractors in 1927, the system was a point of national pride.
The Department’s assistance did not end in 1927. Early passenger traffic was almost non-existent. Mail contracts provided a financial base that encouraged the growth of the nation’s fledgling commercial aviation system. Companies used those funds to purchase larger and safer airplanes, which encouraged passenger traffic.
By the end of the 1930s, legislation had stripped all remnants of control of airmail service from the Post Office Department. The Department continued to award airmail contracts, but its influence over the industry had all but vanished. With the appearance of the Douglas DC-3 airplane, passenger traffic finally began to pay off.