On July 2, 1918, Second Assistant Postmaster General Otto Praeger sent this letter to U.S. Army Captain Benjamin B. Lipsner, appointing him to the newly-created post of Superintendent of the U.S. Airmail Service.
Regularly scheduled airmail service began on May 15, 1918 in the United States. Pilots flew mail between the cities of Washington, DC, Philadelphia, PA, and New York, NY. Although the Post Office was in charge of the service, the only available airplanes and pilots belonged to the U.S. Army, which operated the service until August 9, 1918. The Army placed Captain Lipsner in charge of airplane maintenance for the first flights. When Praeger offered him the Superintendent position Lipsner resigned his commission and joined the Post Office Department. As Praeger notes in his letter, Lipsner was to be paid $4,200 per year, beginning on August 1, but first he had to resign from the Army.
Lipsner was an enthusiastic supporter of the early airmail service, and friendly with two of the first civilian pilots hired to fly the mail on August 12, 1918, Max Miller and Eddie Gardner. Lipsner’s enthusiasm for the airmail service was not enough to keep him in his job. Lipsner and Praeger were soon arguing over operations procedures. Both men were eager to expand the airmail service west, connecting the nation’s two largest economic centers, New York City and Chicago, Illinois, which was also Lipsner’s home town, but could not agree on timing or methods.
Praeger lost patience with his superintendent and began working around him. On December 5, 1918, Lipsner resigned, and charged his boss of improper contract procedures. Lipsner accused Praeger and Postmaster General Albert Burleson of trying to direct public funds to private aviation companies for personal financial gain. The charges proved baseless and Praeger continued to direct the airmail service until he left office in 1921.
Benjamin Lipsner spent the next decades working as an engineer and consultant to a number of oil companies and airlines. For the rest of his life Lipsner promoted his brief tenure in the U.S. Airmail Service through conventions, air shows, a book (Jennies to Jets), and even an exhibit he created that included a number of items from the early years of the service.
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Written by Nancy A. Pope