Lipsner vs. Praeger

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Max Miller's letter of support of Benjamin Lipsner and his endeavors after his resignation from the Airmail Service.

Shortly after the Chicago pathfinder flights, Praeger, always looking to expand the Airmail Service to prevent its demise, decided to expand the regular service to Chicago in late September of 1918. Lipsner disagreed, feeling that the service was not ready and to expand prematurely would leave a stain on the service’s (and Lipsner's) record.

Praeger, convinced that immediate expansion was practical and necessary, pushed the route forward, despite Lipsner’s objections. In this particular instance, Lipsner was correct. The airmail service was not ready. The regularly scheduled Chicago airmail route was a dismal failure, plagued with aborted flights, crash landings and mechanical problems.

Praeger’s decision to move forward did not sit well with Lipsner, who decided to retaliate by slinging wild accusations of mismanagement and political patronage in the media. He made no mention of the Airmail Service lacking the necessary resources and preparation to implement regular New York-Chicago service, probably because he knew how much damage that would bring to the service to which he was still loyal.

Praeger was not amused. His opinion of Lipsner had already sank to record lows due to the problems with the Chicago route, and he was not going to put up with insubordination atop failure. He casually and publicly dismissed Lipsner’s accusations. The public fell on Praeger’s side, as Lipsner’s accusations were perceived as foolish to begin with. Lipsner, rather than falling into line, continued trying to attack Praeger. This time, he publicly resigned, and attacked Praeger and the Airmail Service as being unready to move on to Chicago, and questioning Praeger’s ability to run the Airmail Service. However, Lipsner seemed blissfully unaware that by resigning, he made Praeger’s life easier, by getting out of his way.

When Lipsner left the Airmail Service, Praeger decided to divide up the powers that Lipsner held as Superintendent of the Airmail Service, so that, in the future, it would be harder to resist Praeger’s will. He divided up the power into three offices, Chief of Flying, Chief of Maintenance, and Chief of Operations. Given the diffusion of power brought about by Lipsner’s departure, nobody could stand in Praeger’s way. Power to challange Praeger would only become more diffused as time went on.

Praeger and Lipsner both fancied themselves the founders of airmail. They both saw themselves as the driving force behind the service as well. Because of this, the two men were on a collision course from the first day on the job. The problems with the Chicago route and their opposite attitudes toward the pilots only accelerated the confrontation.

Though Lipsner had a say in running the Airmail Service, it was Praeger’s show. Praeger was the Second Assistant Postmaster General, making him Lipsner’s boss. He was also a personal friend of Postmaster General Burlson, who was a close friend of Woodrow Wilson, which gave Praeger a license to do essentially whatever he wanted without fear of retribution. Thus it is unsurprising that Lipsner was unsuccessful in combating Praeger.