Notes from the Past

Pioneer Airmail Flights - Part II

First European Air Mail Flight Made in Denmark

Louis Blériot's successful crossing of the English Channel in 1909 sparked aviation enthusiasm throughout the world.  Within forty-eight hours of the crossing his aircraft factory had received nearly one hundred orders for the Blériot XI model which he flew.  First flights of heavier-than-air craft were made in twenty five nations in 1909 and 1910.

Previously, however, aviation occupied the interest of many.  In Denmark, Danish engineer Jacob C. H. Ellehammer achieved a tethered flight of 42 meters in his semi-biplane on the island of Lindholm.  This was the first sustained flight by a heavier-than-air machine in Europe.  Ellehammer's flight occurred eleven days before the flight of Alberto Santos-Dumont in Paris on October 23, 1906, the first free flight by a heavier-than-air machine in Europe.

Denmark continued to be a forerunner by having the first aerial mail in Europe shortly after the world's first official airmail flight in India.  Danish news was filled with aviation excitement August, 1911.  For most of the month, Robert Thelen of Germany had been making headlines with a series of demonstration flights throughout Denmark.  On September 2, 1911, he made a successful flight of 2½ hours from Aarhus to Copenhagen.  The popular flyer made the flight of 115 miles in his Wright biplane and landed surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd.

One newspaper reported Thelen's flight the next day in headlines.  On the same page, in a brief announcement in small print easily overlooked, the first Danish air mail flight was noted.  This was also the first air mail flight in Europe.  A Danish pilot named Robert Svendsen carried some promotional cards printed by a newspaper in Middlefart in his airplane during a flight on September 2.  He flew only a short distance - less than ten miles - from Middlefart to Frederica across the Little Belt inlet of the Baltic Sea.

Although the mail did not involve prior post office authorization, the cards were stamped with Danish postage and were cancelled and forwarded by the Danish post office after being deposited in the mails at Frederica.  The cards had a picture of his airplane, Svendsen's signature, and were inscribed "Fra Belt flyvingen 1911" (from Belt Flight 1911).  Some 150 to 200 cards were mailed.  On his return trip to Middlefart, he is reported to have carried an 80 similar cards.

To Be Continued

Posted September 11, 2000

Editor's Note:  This series will draw on Donald B. Holmes' Air Mail -- an illustrated history 1793-1981 which is an exceptional piece of philatelic literature and The American Air Mail Catalogue Vol. 1 published by the American Air Mail Society.

Index of 508 Notes from the Past

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