Airline Expansion and Innovation(1927 - 1941)

The Post Office Begins Flying the Mail

The U.S. Post Office began using airplanes to move the mail in order to help establish an air transportation system.

The new field of air transportation was risky business. Early airlines proved unprofitable-they flew and then folded. The airline industry could not get off the ground.

So as it had with stagecoaches, steamships, and railroads, the federal government stepped in to foster a new transportation system. It authorized the U.S. Post Office to begin flying the mail. In 1918 the vision of Postmaster General Albert Burleson and Second Assistant Postmaster General Otto Praeger became a reality with the creation of the U.S. Air Mail Service.

Earle Ovington
National Air and Space Museum Archives

The First Carrying of Air Mail

To demonstrate the potential of transporting mail by air, the Post Office approved a special air mail flight as part of the festivities at an international air meet on September 23, 1911, on Long Island, New York.

With a full mail bag squeezed between his legs, pilot Earle Ovington took off and flew to Mineola, a few miles away. He banked his airplane and pushed the bag overboard. It fell to the ground and was retrieved by the local postmaster.

 

Earle Ovington
National Air and Space Museum Archives

Earle Ovington Oath
National Air and Space Museum Archives


Earle Ovington was sworn in
as America's "first aeroplane mail carrier."

Queen Bleriot
National Air and Space Museum Archives

Queen

Earle Ovington flew a Queen airplane on his brief air mail flight in 1911. The Queen was based on the popular Blériot monoplane design.

Air Mail Pilot's Coat and Helmet
Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum

Air Mail Pilot's Coat and Helmet

Lt. James Edgerton flew the mail from Philadelphia to Washington during the first scheduled air mail flight on May 15, 1918. He wore this helmet and coat during that flight. Edgerton left the Army in 1919 and became the Chief of Flying for the U.S. Air Mail Service.

Gift of James C. Edgerton

Compass Used on First Scheduled Air Mail Flight
Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum

Compass Used on the First Scheduled Air Mail Flight

On May 15, 1918, Lt. Howard P. Culver navigated between Philadelphia and Belmont Park, near New York City, using this liquid-filled compass installed in his Curtiss Jenny.

Gift of Mrs. A. Paul Culver

 

Letter and envelope
carried on the
first scheduled
air mail flight.

Letter Carried on First Scheduled Air Mail Flight
Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum

Envelope for Letter Carried on First Scheduled Air Mail Flight
Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum

James Edgerton's Logbook
Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum

James Edgerton's Logbook

This is Lt. James Edgerton's logbook, with entries for May 14 and 15, 1918. Pilots write down their experiences so other pilots can learn from them. What problems did Edgerton have? How long did it take him to fly from Bustleton Field to Washington?