DCSIMG
National Postal Museum logo
Top Image
Pilot StoriesHistoric PlanesAirmail Creates an IndustryObject ShowcaseHistory TimelineActivity ZoneFlight School
The Army Pilots
No Old, Bold, Pilots
>> The First Four
>> They Died Flying the Mail
>> Rest of the Best
Tales from 5000 ft.
Contract Pilots
Mail by Female
Pilot's Gear

PILOT STORIES: Smith, Lawton V.

Air Mail Service Began: August 31, 1918
Air Mail Service Ended: March 5, 1919
Pilot Rehired: October 15, 1919
Air Mail Service Ended: November 20, 1919
Assignments: Bustleton Park, Pennsylvania
  Washington, DC
  January 4, 1919, Belmont Park, New York
  October 15, 1919, College Park, Maryland
  October 16, 1919 – Belmont Park, New York

On October 18, 1919, Lawton Smith was flying from College Park, Maryland to New York when "about 2 miles from South Amboy, my thermometer began to rise rapidly. I throttled down to 1300 R.P.M. but the thermometer hand went to pin and oil pressure went below 20. I turned and glided from 5000 feet into a field between South River and Old Bridge, New Jersey."

Smith broke his nose and his airplane propeller and undercarriage on November 14, 1919 when landing at College Park, Maryland with the New York mail. He had to land short "on account of motor failing to take throttle, resulting in nosing over in swampy part of field."

On March 5, 1919, Smith was fired for having refused to make the Washington – New York trip the prior day. Smith had tried to fly in the foggy mess, forced to fly as low at times as 50 feet above ground, but finally turned back to the field and refused to leave again. Smith had an influential friend in Congressman La Guardia (R-NY). La Guardia had jousted with the Post Office Department over funding for the service, and was not beyond a vague threat to make his point.

In a letter to Second Assistant Postmaster General Otto Praeger, La Guardia wrote of Smith's good service, noting why he should not have been relieved. He ends the letter by saying, "I trust that you will reconsider this case and have Mr. Smith reinstated. Aerial mail has a great future in this country, but it must be properly managed and safely conducted. Aviation will receive great encouragement from Congress and it is hoped to have this country lead the world in all branches of aviation. I trust that your Department will be willing to cooperate and to adjust itself to conditions necessary in aviation which are entirely different than all other means of transportation which makes up the Post Office Department."

Smith was reinstated on October 15, 1919, but he lasted only a month before his career with the service finally ended.

Letter regarding crash  
   
Click on the photos to view a larger image.

(top left) Letter regarding crash
View Our Collection
Postal Museum | Smithsonian | Privacy | Terms of Use | Site MapBottom Navigation
Top of page link to homepage