Airline Expansion and Innovation(1927 - 1941)

Regularly Scheduled Air Mail Service Begins

The Post Office began flying the mail from New York to Washington, D.C., via Philadelphia in 1918. The service got off to an awkward start.

On the morning of May 15, 1918, two air mail pilots in Curtiss Jennys took off within minutes of each other, one from Washington, D.C., the other from Long Island, New York. At Philadelphia, they would exchange mailbags and fly on, thus opening up two-way Washington-Philadelphia-New York air mail service.

At least that was the plan....

 

Boyle and George Looking at Watch
National Air and Space Museum Archives

Which Way to Philly?

The first day of regularly scheduled air mail service did not quite go as planned. One pilot, Lt. Torrey Webb, left Belmont Race Track on Long Island and reached Philadelphia an hour later. Another, Lt. George Boyle, headed for Philadelphia from Washington, but he quickly lost his way.

Navigating by a road map and a faulty compass, Boyle tried to follow railroad tracks, then landed in Waldorf, Maryland, south of Washington, to seek directions. On landing he flipped and damaged his airplane and could not continue. After news of his mishap reached Philadelphia, the connecting flight to New York left and arrived on time-but without the mail from Washington.

Woodrow Wilson
National Air and Space Museum Archives

President Woodrow Wilson presided over the opening ceremonies at West Potomac Park in Washington. Here he speaks with Maj. Reuben H. Fleet, who organized the initial air mail service by assembling the necessary aircraft and pilots from the Army Air Service.

Regularly Scheduled Air Mail Service Begins
National Air and Space Museum Archives
Torrey Webb
National Air and Space Museum Archives

Lt. Torrey Webb flew from New York to Philadelphia, where he transferred his mail to Lt. James Edgerton's waiting Jenny for the flight to Washington.