Today in Postal History

 
 

United States First Authorized Airmail Flight
September 28, 1911

By 1910 it was apparent that aviation would play a big role in the future.
A clear opportunity would be using airplanes to speed the transport of mail.

The 19th century had seen many advances that
sped up mail delivery in a revolution in communications.
Railroads and steamships both made sharp advances in speeding up the mail
but also continued to improve results as the technologies matured.

In 1911, the United States Post Office authorized airmail flights in conjunction
with the Second International Air Meet at the Nassau Boulevard Aerodrome
in Garden City, Long Island outside of New York City.
Visitors to the meet were encouraged to drop
cards and letters into boxes around the field.
The boxes were collected and taken to a white tent
designated U.S. MAIL | AEROPLANE STATION No. 1.
There the mail was cancelled with a special CDS and
a straight-line AERIAL SPECIAL DISPATCH was applied.

The mail was put into a bag and put aboard an airplane and flown a few miles
to Mineola where the pilot dropped the bag to waiting postal officials.
The mail was then distributed to its destination.

The first bag broke on hitting the ground.
Postal officials scrambled to collect all the mail.
A stronger bag was used for subsequent flights.

Earle Ovington was the pilot of the first flight and
flew at least one flight each day during the meet starting September 23
and ending, I believe, October 2* except for September 29
and October 1 when bad weather thwarted plans.

Ovington's airplane was a single seater
American-made Bleriot Queen named Dragonfly.
There was so little room that he carried the mailbag on his lap!

On days when there was need for a second flight other pilots were enlisted.
Other pilots included H. H. "Hap" Arnold, then a young Army pilot,
and Eugene Ely, the Curtiss pilot who had successfully
landed on Navy ships the previous year.

Over 43,000 pieces of mail were flown during the event.

This postal card is Scott UX 22 issued in 1910.

I believe the sender of this card was an early stamp dealer.

*I have been unable to confirm the end date of the Air Meet.
It appears to have been originally scheduled for September 23 to September 30.
Holmes (Air Mail an illustrated history 1793-1981) notes
that October 1 was interrupted for weather.
This leads one to conclude that the meet was extended to provide make-up days.
This would be possible if the Post Office was trying to assure
that mail left for delivery by air actually got air service.

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