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Symposium Papers

Sunday, October 21

Plenary Session

Welcome: David L. Straight, American Philatelic Society

Opening Remarks: Peter Mastrangelo, Executive Director, American Philatelic Society

Introduction of Plenary Speakers: Virginia L. Horn, American Philatelic Research Library

David M. Henkin, Associate Professor of History, University of California at Berkeley
Frank R. Scheer, Railway Mail Service Library
F. Robert van der Linden, Curator, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Q & A Moderator: Daniel A. Piazza, Smithsonian National Postal Museum

Monday, October 22

Welcome: David L. Straight, American Philatelic Society

Panel 1: Land

Moderator and Respondent: Frank R. Scheer, Railway Mail Service Library

"1845 Cultural Nexus in Transportation and Communication: Express, Railroad, and the Post Office" [Paper]
Robert Dalton Harris and Diane DeBlois
Based on an original, unpublished-find—16 letters written in 1844 and 1845 to Erastus Corning, president of several New York railroads—the authors will discuss the expressmen, private individuals who carried mail not on behalf of the state but for communities that wished to communicate among themselves. Their success in this enterprise helped spark the postal reforms of the 1840s, and the Corning letters reveal different expressmen’s attitudes toward giving up the right to carry letters (and helping the post office to police the exclusion) as well as the railroads’ interest in linking the mails with a national transportation schedule.

"Taxi Mail During the Palestine Mandate" [Presentation]
Arthur H. Groten
The British Mandate of Palestine was plagued by chronic, low grade warfare that made it difficult for the post office to deliver mail rapidly and dependably. Although the Department of Posts and Telegraphs had a legal monopoly on letter mail, the population often turned to taxicab drivers to deliver important messages. During times of relative quiet, the taxicabs charged fees that were comparable to the official rates; periods of unrest, however, saw the price increase commensurate with the risks. Such a highly developed non-governmental system for the conveyance of letter mail is virtually unknown anywhere else in the world (the 19th century German and American local carriers, as well as the 20th century Swiss Alpine Post, were officially sanctioned).

"Symbol of Progress and Forward Stride: The Highway Post Office" [Paper | Presentation]
Robert Cullen
In July 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a measure directing the Post Office Department to expedite mail delivery in underserved areas via the nation’s highways. Acting Postmaster General Smith W. Purdum subsequently appointed a planning committee to decide which types of vehicles should be used as Highway Post Offices and which roads should carry them. The committee’s recommendations set the standards for the Highway Post Office service’s inaugural run in February 1941 and for all other routes established until Sectional Service Facilities for sorting and distributing mail finally killed HPO service in 1974. Nonetheless, the service fulfilled a vital need during its lifetime and remains an invaluable but often neglected case study in postal transportation technology.

Panel 2: Sea

Moderator and Respondent: David M. Henkin, University of California at Berkeley

"The Black Ball Line: The Early Years, 1818-1822"
James R. Pullin

In 1818, the American Black Ball Line established a regular mail and passenger schedule between New York, London, and Liverpool. This allowed the transportation of mail on a dependable schedule across the Atlantic, strengthening ties of information and commerce between the United States and Great Britain. American sailing packets dominated transatlantic mail transportation until the British introduced ocean steamships in 1838.

"Experimental Air Mail and the SS Leviathan" [Paper]
Roger A. Baldwin
The SS Leviathan was the largest and finest passenger ship of her age. Launched in 1913 as the German liner Vaterland, the ship was seized by the United States during World War I, served as a troopship in the war, and then sailed for the United States Lines until 1934. On three occasions in 1927 and 1929, experimental air mail flights to and from theLeviathan at sea attempted to cut two days off the transport of transatlantic mail to and from New York—a full year before the first catapult service from the French steamer Île de France. This paper will highlight the individuals, planes and ship involved in these three experiments, illustrated by photos and souvenir covers from the flights.

"Trans-Pacific Mail at the Beginning of World War II" [Paper]
Richard Martorelli
The interwar development of transpacific mail carried on steamship lines such as Dollar, Matson/Oceanic, and American President Lines was affected by many political developments. These included the post-World War I sale of excess tonnage; subsidization by the U.S. Government through mail contracts and capital ship construction (such as the Dollar Line ships SS President Hoover and SS President Coolidge); the growing economic and political crisis in the Pacific Rim during 1941; and the transfer of vessels from commercial to war support operations.

Panel 3: Air

Panel Moderator and Respondent: F. Robert van der Linden, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

"The Mailman’s Airship: Postcards as Heralds of a New Air Age, 1890-1914"
Guillaume de Syon

The earliest postcard representations of flight depicted balloons, dirigibles, and fantastic flying machines of the sort imagined by dreamers such as novelist H. G. Wells and illustrator Albert Robida. The notion of flight was less important to these early representations than was the need for escapism and demystifying the new technology. By studying these images, we can learn much about how turn-of the-century Europeans came to terms with the new aeronautical age.

"Zeppelin Posts and Politics at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair" [Paper]
Cheryl R. Ganz
In 1933 the Graf Zeppelin visited the Chicago world’s fair. The swastikas, Nazi Germany’s most powerful and divisive emblem of national identity, emblazoned on the airship’s vertical tail fins forced the German American community to reevaluate its nationalistic identity. They also created a political dilemma for the U.S. Post Office Department, which had agreed to subsidize the flight by issuing a 50¢ Graf Zeppelinstamp with 85% of the proceeds going to offset the Zeppelin Company’s expenses. Ultimately, more than 100,000 of these stamps—printed sans swastika—were used to frank mostly philatelic covers. The roles played by politics and nationalism in aviation and philately are examined through the prism of this event.

"United States Autogiro Mail: A Bold Experiment"
Peter D. Martin

By the 1930s, rotary winged aircraft were moving out of the experimental stage due to Juan de la Cierva’s development of the autogiro,the “missing link” between airplanes and the helicopter. After many U.S. demonstration flights and much lobbying, Congress in 1938 appropriated $63,000 for an experimental autogiro mail contract. The result was Experimental Route 2001, a one-year contract to fly the mail between the Philadelphia Post Office and the Camden, New Jersey airport. The presentation introduces the autogiro and reviews early autogiro mail, including flown covers; demonstration flights; the only regular autogiro mail operation; and the reasons for the demise of autogiro service.