Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum Announces New “Virtual Exhibit”

Press Release

The Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum announces the addition of a new virtual exhibit to its Web site entitled “Fad to Fundamental: Airmail in America.” The site offers background information on the development of United States Airmail Service, tracing its roots to a time when aviation in America was little more than a fad to its fundamental place in contemporary mail service.

The U.S. Post Office Department operated the airmail service from 1918 to 1926, when aviation was still an untested commodity in the eyes of the public. America’s postal pilots risked their lives to carry the mail, at times flying in weather that would keep today’s sophisticated flyers on the ground.

The work for postal pilots was extremely dangerous—35 of these pilots were killed while flying the mail. The postal service pilots became national heroes, as their stories and exploits spread across the country. And, while the courage of many of these young men helped lead the way for the growth of aviation in America, their antics also became the stuff of legends. Visitors to the site will learn…

  • Which pilot timed his flight path in bad weather by gauging how much his cigar had burned down
  • Who used a half-empty whiskey bottle as a flight level indicator
  • Which pilot had the presence of mind to blow out a mid-air fire by slip-sliding his craft downward>

Several mail aircraft are featured on the site, including Fred Wiseman’s rickety 1911 airplane, which became the first airplane to carry mail on Feb. 17, 1911. Other aircraft included in the site are the Curtiss JN-4 “Jennies” and the de Havilland airplanes that became the workhorses of the service.

Objects from the National Postal Museum’s airmail collections, including treasures from both United States and foreign aviation history, are also on display through the site. Visitors can view envelopes carried by balloon during the 1871 Siege of Paris, as well as a postcard recovered from the Hindenburg disaster of 1937, a selection of U.S. airmail stamps, stamped envelopes and postal cards, and three-dimensional objects, such as flight suits belonging to pilots Eddie Gardner and Amelia Earhart.

Teachers and students are invited to explore the site’s “Flight School,” produced by the National Postal Museum’s education department. Here, students learn about the principles of flight, as well as the history of the airmail service, its pilots and aircraft.

The National Postal Museum would like to thank LIOBmedia for the creation and development of this site. LIOBmedia is an IT and multimedia solutions company.

The National Postal Museum is devoted to presenting the colorful and engaging history of the nation’s mail service and showcasing the largest and most comprehensive collection of stamps and philatelic material in the world. It is located at 2 Massachusetts Ave. N.E., in the Old City Post Office Building across from Union Station. The museum is open daily, except Dec. 25, from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For more information, visit the museum’s Web site at

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