Airmail Service

Topical Reference Page
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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 full time 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.

Location: 
Atrium

In 1921, army navigational beacons between Columbus and Dayton, Ohio, guided pilots at night. The Post Office took over the system in 1922 and by the end of 1923, had constructed similar beacons between Chicago, Illinois and Cheyenne, Wyoming.

February 22, 2006 - Permanent
Exhibition

In the 1920s and 1930s, funds from airmail contracts breathed life into the nation's fledgling commercial aviation industry.

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Object Spotlight

On May 15, 1918, the Post Office Department began the nation's first regularly scheduled airmail service. The first three months of the service were directed by the Department using Army Air Corp pilots and borrowed airplanes. On August 12, the army pilots were replaced by post office pilots.

The transition from airmail to modern day airline companies can be viewed in the evolution of the 22 models of airplanes that were used in the years 1918 to 1936, as the airmail industry became the airline industry.
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Exhibition
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...
Object Spotlight
Object Spotlight
Exhibition

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.

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Object Spotlight

Although airborne mail transport had occurred during the nineteenth century, the first official airmail flown by airplane took place in India in 1911.

May 1, 2018 - August 18, 2019
Exhibition

May 15, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the world’s first regularly scheduled airmail service. President Wilson was on hand in Washington, DC to watch the historic take off. At first the service only operated between Washington, Philadelphia and New York. By 1920, airmail raced from New York to San Francisco. It was dangerous work. More than 30 pilots died doing their best to fly the mail. Americans recognized the bravery of these Postmen of the Skies, treating them as heroes. In 1927 the Post Office handed off the last of its routes to private contractors, paving the way for what became the nation’s commercial aviation system.

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A Difficult December, Part III: The Route Begins

2018 marks the centennial of airmail service in America. Initially, the planes flew just one route to and from New York to Washington, D.C. (with a stop in Philly to refuel). But Post Office Department officials were determined to add another route from New York to Chicago, Illinois despite tremendous danger and a lack of supporting infrastructure. In a three-part series, Nancy Pope shares the captivating history of these pioneering flights.

A Difficult December, Part II: Planes & Personnel

2018 marks the centennial of airmail service in America. Initially, the planes flew just one route to and from New York to Washington, D.C. (with a stop in Philly to refuel). But Post Office Department officials were determined to add another route from New York to Chicago, Illinois despite tremendous danger and a lack of supporting infrastructure. In a three-part series, Nancy Pope shares the captivating history of these pioneering flights.

A Difficult December, Part I: Setting up a Route

2018 marks the centennial of airmail service in America. Initially, the planes flew just one route to and from New York to Washington, D.C. (with a stop in Philly to refuel). But Post Office Department officials were determined to add another route from New York to Chicago, Illinois despite tremendous danger and a lack of supporting infrastructure. In a three-part series, Nancy Pope shares the captivating history of these pioneering flights.

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