Smithsonian National Postal MuseumTitle: The Pichs CollectionSan Carlos Institute
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Smithsonian National Postal Museum The Pichs Collection, Exploring Cuba's History Through Postage Stamps
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Postal History
Aviation History

The Birth of Air Transport in Cuba

On 17 May 1913, Domingo Rosillo piloted an airplane from Key West, Florida to Cuba securing the $10,000 award for being the first to accomplish the feat. This 90-mile crossing came just ten years after the Wright brothers’ historic flight and four years after Blériot’s famous English-Channel crossing of twenty-one miles. Cubans rallied behind the achievement. As the stamps in fig. 1 depict, however, Agustín Parlá, a Cuban-born pilot who crossed the Straits two days after Rosillo with just a simple compass (Rosillo preferred a naval escort) acquired the more lasting recognition.

In October 1919, the Compañía Aérea Cubana (C.A.C) was founded by Hannibal J. de Mesa. He purchased six Farman aircraft, which a French team brought to Cuba by ship. C.A.C. began a flying school with Farman F-40s; it did some sightseeing around Havana; carried out surveying and aerial photography; and started a small airline. The General Manager was Agustin Parlá.

The first Cuban airline service started in October 1920 and although this enterprise survived for only a few months, it opened the first regular airline schedule in the whole of Latin America. Two weeks earlier, a United States company had opened an air link between Havana and the United States. These were bold experiments in the embryo stage of an industry that had yet to identify its role in society.

fig. 2 fig. 2
Map: Compañía Aérea Cubana

Meanwhile, in 1920, the Cuban aviator, Jaime González, was to make the first air mail flight in Cuba (fig. 2a), and on 15 October 1920, in the United States, Florida West Indies Airways (F.W.I.A.) received the first Foreign Air Mail contract from the U.S. Post Office (fig 3, fig 4, fig 5). One month later, Aeromarine, which had purchased F.W.I.A., began regular service from Key West to Havana using Curtiss Type F5L flying boats.

On 30 October 1920, C.A.C. had started Cuban domestic services, with Farman F-60 Goliaths on a new route from Havana to Santiago de Cuba, via Cienfuegos/Santa Clara and Camagüey. But on January 1921, this service ended, because of economic depression in Cuba, caused by big sugar beet harvests in Europe. By 1 Nov. 1921, Aeromarine was operating two daily Curtiss F5L services from Key West to Havana. But after about two years, Aeromarine also ceased operations, because of financial losses.

airline route map fig. 6
Map: Airlines in Cuba in the 1920s


airmail envelope

airmail airplane
fig. 1a
Farman Aircraft

airmail postage stamp
fig 2a

airmail plane
fig. 3

airmail envelope
fig. 4

airmail stamp
fig. 5

Aviation History

The Birth of Air Transport in Cuba

The Start of Pan American Airways

Pan American Dominates the Caribbean

A National Airline for Cuba

Cubana Develops International Routes

A New Regime

Maintaining International Links

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