Notes from the Past

Pioneer Airmail Flights - Part III

Glenn Curtiss Flies down the Hudson Valley with a Letter

There are a number of instances in the early days of aviation when airplanes carried letters or other messages which qualified as mail if not officially recognized.

On May 29, 1910, Glenn Curtiss, an aviation pioneer second only to the Wrights, made an epic flight down the Hudson River valley from Albany, New York, to New York City.  Prior to his departure, Albany Mayor James B. McEwan gave him a letter to carry to the Mayor of New York City.  Weather concerns delayed the flight, but on the 29th calm weather prevailed.  Curtiss took off from Van Rensselaer Island at 7:02 am before a small handful of people.

Curtiss' flight was problem free.  He stopped at Poughkeepsie, made a pass over West Point where the cadets waved to him, made another stop at Inwood at the estate of financier William B. Isham, and then proceeded to New York City.  Word of his flight gained the attention of New Yorkers and throngs waved to him from the ground below.  Automobiles even tried to keep up with his flight along the west side of Manhattan.  People watched from rooftops and office windows, ferries and ocean liners.  He circled the Statue of Liberty and landed easily on Governor's Island at noon.  His flight had averaged 52 miles per hour.

On May 31, the New York World honored Curtiss with a banquet at which time the letter from Mayor McEwan was presented to Mayor Gaynor of New York City.  Mayor McEwan's letter contained these words:  "The speed of this new instrument of locomotion seems to fit it admirably for many purposes of service to humanity, especially in the way of rapid communication.  So far, however, no letter has yet been carried by this new means, and I am glad that these greetings between us should be the first."  How prophetic!

To Be Continued

Posted September 12, 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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