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Airmail Service

refer to caption
From left to right: Pilots Jack Knight, Clarence Lange, Lawrence Garrison, “Wild” Bill Hopson and Andrew Dunphy, head of the Omaha-Salt Lake City Division posed in front of an airmail hangar in Omaha.

At the end of the First World War, aviation pioneer William Boeing was on the verge of abandoning his fledgling and failing aviation business to return fulltime to the more profitable furniture business. In 1927 Boeing won one of a handful of US Post Office Department airmail contracts. At a time when few were willing to risk their lives as passengers in the developing commercial aviation industry, airmail contracts provided companies like Boeing with the financial cushion that allowed them to develop stronger, more reliable aircraft.

Not only did America’s Post Office Department fund the nation’s commercial aviation industry, but from 1918-1927, the Department operated the nation’s airmail service. Postal officials hired pilots and mechanics, purchased airplanes and equipment, established aviation routes and led the nation into the commercial aviation age.

blue tinted photo of a pilot wearing goggles

Fad to Fundamental: Airmail in America

Learn how the U.S. Post Office Department created the framework for America's commercial aviation industry. From 1918-1926, a few daredevil pilots and some aging aircraft made history and bound the country together by air.

photo of an airmail plane

Airmail in America

The United States Post Office Department created the nation’s commercial aviation industry. From 1918 to 1927, the Post Office Department built and operated the nation’s airmail service, establishing routes, testing aircraft and training pilots. When the Department turned the service over to private contractors in 1927, the system was a point of national pride.

Amelia Earhart wearing goggles

Amelia Earhart’s Solo Transatlantic Mail

On May 20-21, 1932, Amelia Earhart (1897-1937) became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. The feat ensured her not only worldwide acclaim but a place in the annals of aviation history. May 2007 marked the 75th anniversary of this milestone flight, which set speed and women’s distance records. On the flight Earhart carried fifty pieces of “unofficial” mail (the flight was not authorized by the post office), each postmarked before and after landing, cacheted, numbered, and autographed to document the historic event.

Amelia Earhart's flight suit

Amelia Earhart’s Flight Suit

Pilot Amelia Earhart (1897-1937) earned revenue by carrying philatelic materials on her flights. Earhart owned and wore this leather wool-lined flight suit manufactured by Arnold, Constable & Company, of Paris and New York. Such suits were essential for long-distance flights.

Lipsner with four men in front of an airplane on an airfield

The Benjamin B. Lipsner Airmail Collection Finding Guide

Although employed by the Post Office Department for less than four months, Captain Benjamin Lipsner was an integral figure in the development and success of the world's first regular Air Mail Service. Born on 15 September 1887 in Chicago, Illinois, Lipsner was interested in mechanics at a young age. He attended the Armour Institute in Chicago where he received a degree in Mechanical Engineering.

En Route

Air Pick-Up

Written by historian James O'Donnell, January 2000.

En Route

The 1918 Race To Chicago

Written by historian James H. Bruns, December 1992.