The de Havilland DH-4

In 1918 the Post Office Department requested 100 de Havilland airplanes from the army. These airplanes were not designed for the demands of airmail service. Its greatest flaw was the placement of the cockpit. Minor accidents turned deadly when pilots were trapped between the engine and the fuel compartment. In January 1919, the planes underwent extensive renovation. The cockpit was moved to the rear. The cotton fabric fuselage was replaced with plywood sheets and the landing gear was fitted with a heavy axle and larger wheels. The retrofitted de Havillands became known as the “workhorse of the airmail service.” In their first year of service, the airplanes carried more than 775 million letters.
(On loan from the National Air and Space Museum.)

Learn about pilot Henry G. Boonstra

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Narrator: Overhead is the centerpiece of our Atrium Moving the Mail exhibit, the 1919 deHaviland airmail plane.

Originally a World War I bomber, it was altered to carry mail for the Post Office Department.

The plane became the workhorse of the Department which operated America's airmail service from 1918 to 1927.

But air travel in those days was extremely dangerous.

Few people wanted to risk going up in airplanes.

It was postal funds that created and then supported early commercial aviation in the US.

By the late 1920s, the routs and system set up by the Post Office Department were signed to private companies which in turn carried mail by contract over the routes.